Wilder School Spotlight
Meet Bonnie Gail Mani, Ph.D
By Pamela Stallsmith
When Bonnie Gail Mani initially enrolled in Virginia Commonwealth University in the 1970s, she was pursuing a Master of Music degree with the intent to teach at the college level.
Today she’s teaching, but the Wilder School’s first female doctoral graduate opted for a different path.
A graduate of East Carolina University with a bachelor’s in music, Dr. Mani was working at the Internal Revenue Service in Richmond, putting herself through graduate school. The newly formed public administration degree piqued her curiosity, and the program’s director – Dr. Leigh Grosenick – recruited her as a student.
“I asked, ‘Can somebody with a music degree get this degree’ and he said, ‘Yes,’ so I switched and enrolled in the program,” she recalled. The MPA program also offered classes in the evenings and on weekends, which provided more flexibility for someone with a full-time job.
She went on to earn her Master of Public Administration in 1981 and then her doctorate in public policy and administration in 1987. After she earned her doctorate, Dr. Mani eventually returned to Greenville, N.C., to teach at her alma mater, where she is a professor of political science. Her areas of expertise lie in the areas of women in politics, women and public policy, public personnel management and American national government. At ECU, she is the first female full professor in the 40-year history of the political science department.
Dr. Mani believes in giving back and willingly shares her experiences and expertise. She appreciates the challenges that students today face. Dr. Mani, who worked at the IRS for 20 years, recalls working on her dissertation while on business trips in hotel rooms and airport waiting areas.
She financially supports the Wilder School through annual gifts, often directing her gifts to the Leigh Grosenick Scholarship and through a bequest that establishes a scholarship and program support fund. This ensures that her legacy of giving will continue long after her lifetime.
Gifts that enable financial aid are a form of encouragement and allow students to concentrate on their studies, she said.
“I was a nontraditional student, and I finished my degrees with no student debt,” she said.
“It’s important to help traditional students finish their degrees and focus. And it’s good to encourage students to keep their grades up. It enables them to work on their research for their doctorate as opposed to asking, ‘Would you like fries with that.’ ”
She encourages students to attend conferences and present papers, which promotes networking and develops public presentation skills.
“Get the name of VCU out there, too. It builds the reputation of the university. That’s important to every graduate. Also, publish – get the name of VCU in journals,” Dr. Mani advised. “We need to go forth and be known.”