People First, Place Second

PROVO, Utah – Apr 29, 2020 – When BYU Marriott MPA professor Rob Christensen hit a crossroad in his career, he took the path that led to a semester-long sabbatical in Europe. After spending three months in Milan and a month and a half in London during fall 2019, Christensen reflects back on his time abroad and is grateful for the research opportunities he was given and the networking experiences he had.

After teaching and researching at other universities for more than a decade, Christensen joined BYU in 2016. As a new BYU employee, he enrolled in the BYU Faculty Center’s New Faculty Development Series where he learned about and was encouraged to explore his college’s sabbatical possibilities.

That opportunity came several years later, and Christensen decided to see how a sabbatical in Europe would enrich the new chapter of his BYU experience. The opportunity was made possible with encouragement and generous financial support from the BYU Marriott School of Business and its Romney Institute of Public Service and Ethics and Whitmore Global Management Center. Christensen also received assistance from the BYU Kennedy Center.

Christensen’s first sabbatical stop was Bocconi University located in Milan. While there, Christensen researched and developed theories about local government competitiveness. “We often think of business organizations as being competitive, but we don’t realize how government organizations can be equally as competitive,” says Christensen. “We are missing an opportunity to borrow some of that competitive thinking to suggest better ways that we can provide, envision, and consume government.” Christensen and his team were not alone in this research. They worked with scholars in South Korea to expand their reach and make the project an even larger international effort.

On the second leg of his trip, Christensen worked at University College London, where he focused his research on employee behavior and motivation. More specifically, Christensen studied public-service motivation. In his own words, public-service motivation is what orients some students to take a job in government or nonprofit organizations after graduation versus for-profit companies.

Christensen enjoyed researching this topic because he is passionate about public service. Though his time in London has ended, Christensen continues to work with his colleagues at University College London on completing their research with the goal of getting it published.

What stood out the most to Christensen about his sabbatical experience was the networking he was able to do. Using Milan and London as his home bases, Christensen traveled to several other universities to share his research and receive feedback. “The thing I took away the most was gratitude for the ability to connect with so many people in such a relatively short amount of time,” says Christensen. “Connecting with others exposed me to new ways of thinking and solving problems.” In each city he traveled to, Christensen learned to focus more on the people first and the place second, making his experience richer as he learned about his colleagues’ personal lives.

Christensen is especially grateful for the opportunity to share this experience with his wife and two of his daughters. As a family, they enjoyed traveling and experiencing new places, cultures, food, and especially people.

Now that Christensen is back at BYU Marriott, he feels re-energized and ready to take on his classes, both in the classroom and online. Christensen loves teaching and is inspired by his students. “BYU students want to make an impact in the world and help their communities,” said Christensen. “Having students like ours is energizing.”

Being a professor in the MPA program is one of the most rewarding things for Christensen, and he looks forward to translating what he learned from his sabbatical back into the classroom to better teach his students.

Rob Christensen
Rob Christensen with his wife at the British Museum.
Rob Christensen with his wife at the British Museum. Photo courtesy of Rob Christensen.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Natalie Heidemann