Get To Know Your SPA Professors: John Ronquillo

Connecting with your professors can benefit you in the classroom and beyond.  Read this series to dive deeper into the minds of our professors and get answers to some fun and interesting questions.    We asked professors to reflect on their career, advice for students, non-academic hobbies and interests.


Where does your passion/inspiration for your work come from? Is it why you entered your field?

I would have to say that it honestly stemmed from my parents, who were and are devoted volunteers and give freely of their time. I think that is a large part why I have strong research interests in the nonprofit field. Neither of them went to college, but they were the hardest working people I know, and wanted nothing more than for me to have that opportunity. I often say that my mother was a legitimate Rosie the Riveter, as she once worked in the coal yard of our local power plant where I grew up. I have a photo of her walking out of the plant wearing Carhartt overalls and steel-toe boots, carrying a big Coleman lunch box, after a long day—pretty much the only woman to be seen. That’s my constant reminder to work hard. That my very blue-collar parents’ only child ended up a PhD educated college professor is somewhat of a miracle, but the examples they gave to me certainly formed the basis for what I do.

What do you know now that you wished you knew when you were entering grad school?

That things can and do change. That the work required of you is always going to be harder than you expect, and that time management is essential for long and short term success. Relationship building is important, but not to the extent that it requires you to change who you are at your core. My MPA graduate experience was very different than my PhD experience; two completely different beasts. If students are genuinely curious about the good, bad, and the ugly (because it can be), I would be glad to chat with them. I also recommend to anyone going into grad school to read Robert Peters’ Getting What You Came For. Plenty of other great books on grad school survival out there, as well.


What’s your favorite quote?

I have too many, but here are my favorites, in no particular order:

“Back off, man. I’m a scientist.” –Dr. Peter Venkman

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” –George Bernard Shaw

“I like boring things.” –Andy Warhol

“Get up early. Work Hard. Strike oil.” –J. Paul Getty

“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” –Søren Kierkegaard

“Wondrous is the strength of cheerfulness, and its power of endurance – the cheerful man will do more in the same time, will do it better, will preserve it longer, than the sad or sullen.” –Thomas Carlyle

What is your research/teaching philosophy?

It changes every now and then, but when it comes to teaching, I love to incorporate tangible things into my course content: applied projects, guest speakers, things of that nature. I believe that since our field is an applied one, that real life and evidentiary examples need to be brought into the classroom. I would really like to bring more applied research into the class, as well. Not “ivory tower” research, but tools and narratives to help address critical issues. With regard to research, too often I see this really tired dichotomy of the superiority of qualitative research over quantitative research, and vice versa (see King, Keohane, and Verba’s Designing Social Inquiry for an excellent treatise on this). Both can be done well, and both can be done poorly. Overall, I always let my questions drive the research design, and where possible, I try to use mixed-methods approaches. I’ve worked professionally as an applied qualitative researcher, I love interviews and surveys, and I love crunching numbers. There’s merit to all methods.

CU TestIf you were not a professor (or whatever they are), what would you be?

Probably something like a novelist, screenwriter, or documentary filmmaker…or trying to be while working some other job. I originally went to journalism school for my undergrad, and I love interviewing people and telling stories. I love this renaissance of new digital and alternative media (like Vice, Vox, Mic, etc.). I really think it’s something academics need to seize upon to disseminate research. We could stand to be a little more contemporary.

What is your favorite non-academic reading/interests?

I try to get in as much literary fiction as I can, but I’m fascinated with biographies and memoirs. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow is one of my all-time favorite biographies. Mary Karr, Augusten Burroughs, and Josh Hanagarne are some of my favorite memoirists.

What was your first concert?

No joke: Milli Vanilli at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. Young MC was the opening act.

Where have you lived outside of Colorado?

I’m a seventh generation Arizona native, but I’ve also lived in Georgia, Illinois, and Italy.

What is your ideal vacation? Or where do you like to travel?

I have been really fortunate to travel to some amazing places, and have so much more I want to see, but some of my favorites are Bald Head Island, North Carolina; Valle de Viñales, Cuba; and Copenhagen, Denmark. I’m a big fan of Austin, Texas where I did a graduate fellowship and try to get back often.


What gets you up every morning? What keeps you up at night?

Literally, my two boys, almost 8 and 2, respectively. If they’re up, everyone has to be up. Without sounding too cliché, my job is a huge driver in my day to day. I really think, given everything I like and want to do professionally, that I have the best job in the world. That said, my research agenda is constantly keeping me thinking and on my toes; how can I improve things? Where do I want to publish my work? I want to find ways in which our students are edified by coming to our programs. And big picture-wise, I’m always thinking of ways to address wicked problems…and how we can put those students at the forefront of problem solving.

Categories: Academics, Features

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