Moving along, I notice a bookshelf holding numerous binded reports. The reports are on the various research projects the institute has undertaken over the years.
Felts wraps up his meeting and we proceed to his office for the interview. Upon entering his office, he apologizes for the mess telling me that this is normal for his working space. The mess is not your typical college students messy work space though, it is the mess of a dedicated man immersed in many detailed projects.
Since joining the College of Charleston political science faculty in 1989, Felts has jumped right into helping the institute grow and excel. He originally applied for a position in the Masters of Public Administration program, shortly thereafter he was told by the school that he was in the running for the recently vacated position of director at the Institute for Urban Affairs and Policy Studies. "Being the director of the institute is pure serendipity," he says.
"Andy is a very dedicated individual and also easy to work with," says Margaret Bonifay, Felts' Assistant. "He gets very consumed in his projects."
Felts and his team have been a part of many projects in and around Charleston. The projects have ranged from studying the economic impact that the College of Charleston and the Cooper River Bridge Run have on the city to evaluations of community improvement programs such as the Weed and Seed program.
The Weed and Seed study has been one of Felts’ favorites. It was conducted in Savannah. Weed and Seed is a community project with goals ranging from law enforcement’s elimination of drug trafficking, prostitution and juvenile offenders to community policing and neighborhood restoration.
The purpose of the evaluation was to see how the program did in achieving these goals. The institute found the results with much research and effort, aided by the use of large databases, geographical information systems and police reports. "By the end of the project it would have been possible for me to do the drive to Savannah and back in my sleep" Felts says.
When asked about the learning experience that is gained through the Institute and MPA program, Felts says, "When you are in a biology class the marsh is your laboratory, and when you are involved with the institute and MPA program the city is your laboratory. What you see in Charleston did not just happen, it was a well planned process that brought us to what we have today."
Felts schedule is a full one, not only does he head up the institute and work with the MPA program, he also teaches classes at the College. Felts says that when he teaches it is much easier to explain subject matter to students when you have relevant research to back it up. He can turn to boxes of files to prove his points.
Things are going to be changing at the Riley Institute in the near future though. Soon the urban studies major will be housed in the bottom level of the facility at 284 King St. The students from this major will become more involved in the projects and there is a proposal to create a program called the Charleston Semester.
"The Charleston Semester will be unique in that students enrolled in it will take no other courses," Felts says. It will constitute a full course load during the normal academic year. Only a small number of students, chosen on a highly competitive basis, will be permitted to enroll." The students will experience what it is like having the city as their laboratory. Students will even have the opportunity to interact and learn from urban leaders from across the country.
At the Joseph P. Riley Institute for Urban Affairs and Policy Studies, Felts is proving that in this field, the world is the real classroom.