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UMD Professor Empowers Leaders in Public Management

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image of Cullen Merritt with his research lab students
Erica Metheny, Alec Fulayter, Professor Cullen C. Merritt and Andrew Cullen gather for a PROMPT research lab meeting.

From the halls of Texas A&M to the University of Maryland, Cullen C. Merritt has made a lasting impact on public management research. Merritt, associate professor at the School of Public Policy and research director of the Institute for Public Leadership, launched his research lab in 2019 – the Project for Research on Organizations, Management and Publicness Theory (PROMPT). 

Drawing from his own positive experience as an undergraduate research assistant at Texas A&M University and the mentorship he received from professors and Ph.D. students, Merritt aimed to create a similar support structure for his own students. His vision was for PROMPT to be a collaborative platform where students could conduct public management research.

Serving as a bridge between his research and teaching interests, the lab benefits both Merritt and his students. “I launched PROMPT because I am passionate about advancing my research program and mentoring students in producing high-quality scholarship,” shares Merritt. “It is exciting to witness students complete research projects that require them to stretch their creativity, resourcefulness and critical thinking skills in new ways.” His students work hard and think critically, challenging his line of thinking and, says Merritt, making him a better researcher.

Cullen Merritt with his research lab students

Undergraduate and graduate students play an important role in PROMPT, doing independent research and collaborating on various aspects of Merritt's ongoing research program. The lab “injects fresh perspectives and innovative ideas, enriching the research process with diverse insights,” says Merritt. “Active involvement in the lab provides students with practical, hands-on experience, honing their research skills and cultivating a deeper understanding of the subject matter. This contributes to their academic development and enhances the lab’s overall productivity and output.” 

The state of public management research was already robust prior to the existence of PROMPT, says Merritt. His lab builds upon existing research in public management and aims to make research accessible to practitioner audiences – particularly in government and nonprofit organizations – addressing real-world problems through diverse perspectives.

The lab focuses on research topics of local, state and national importance, working to enhance public service practices. Prior to coming to Maryland, for example, Merritt served as a co-principal investigator of a contract with the City-County Council of Indianapolis and Marion County, IN, evaluating the council's effectiveness as a governing body. He plans to establish similar research partnerships with government and public-facing organizations in Maryland. 

Merritt is particularly excited about PROMPT's current work on biased and toxic norms in academia. The research explores how universities can create cultures that empower employees from different backgrounds to succeed, with implications beyond higher education, extending to the relationship between public organizations and the communities they serve.

Through student engagement, mentorship and hands-on learning experiences, PROMPT’s research contributes to the expansion of knowledge in the field of public management and helps students develop the skills needed for success in their academic and professional journeys

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Megan Campbell
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