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Rutgers SPAA Alumna Hanjin Mao (MPA'15, PhD'22) Receives 2023 Best Dissertation Award from Academy of Management for Her Study of Nonprofit Technology

Dr. Hanjin Mao (MPA'15, PhD'22)

Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) alumna Hanjin Mao (MPA'15, PhD'22) has received the Academy of Management (AOM) Public and Nonprofit (PNP) Division 2023 Best Dissertation Award. Her winning three-essay dissertation, "The Financial Benefits of Information Technology Adoption in Nonprofit Organizations," investigated the potential financial returns of IT investment and whether IT adoption in nonprofit organizations is worth the money. The AOM dissertation award recognizes important academic work and high-quality intellectual contributions to the PNP fields, particularly the understanding of management in the public and nonprofit arenas, from around the globe. She will be presented with the award at the AOM's annual meeting in August.

The motivation behind Dr. Mao's research interest in nonprofit technology comes from the challenges nonprofit organizations are facing. "In the modern society, information technology is everywhere in people’s daily life, and it also brings opportunities for nonprofit organizations," she said. "However, lack of funding sources is one of the main barriers to IT adoption in nonprofits, especially when nonprofits are operating with limited resources and pressures from funders to focus resources on beneficiaries." Therefore, her dissertation aimed to investigate the financial benefits of information technology adoption for nonprofits.

"In the post-pandemic era, with the shortage of staff, increasing remote work, and the trend of digital communication in future online everyday life, information technology is an unavoidable future of the nonprofit sector," she said. "All three essays in my dissertation find empirical evidence of the financial benefits of information technology adoption in nonprofit organizations." The dissertation is one of the early studies focused on information technology adoption in nonprofit organizations and it calls for more future research on the topic of nonprofit technology adoption. While making theoretical contributions to nonprofit management literature, the dissertation also offers suggestions for practitioners. A key suggestion the dissertation provides to the nonprofit sector is that information technology expenditure is worth the money, and the information technology cost should be treated as an investment in infrastructure, thus requiring strategic allocation.

"I am honored for the recognition," she said, "and thank my dissertation chair Dr. Cleopatra Charles, my committee (Dr. Lindsey McDougle, Dr. Jiahuan Lu, and Dr. John McNutt) for their generous support and advice along the way, and SPAA faculty members for all the guidance and mentorship during my doctoral studies and job seeking.”

Dr. Mao started at SPAA in 2013 when she came to the U.S. for the first time as an international MPA student. She was passionate about nonprofits and liked the MPA curriculum with a concentration in nonprofit management, and the program helped her find her interest in nonprofit research. During the second year of her MPA study, she interned with United Way Worldwide where she linked knowledge from the classroom to the real world and learned how nonprofits make social impact while overcoming challenges.

She said she chose to continue at SPAA to pursue her PhD because of the diverse research expertise of the faculty and how supportive they are to doctoral students. She was also impressed with the ratio of PhD graduates who become academics. She feels the MPA courses prepared her with solid knowledge in public administration and the research skills she needed to pursue her PhD, especially the courses that dealt with statistics and research design. While a PhD student, she was awarded two prestigious scholarships from the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) in 2021: the Walter W. Mode Scholarship and the Wallace O. Keene Conference Scholarship. She was also a Founders’ Fellow (2022) of the American Society of Public Administration (ASPA), Doctoral Seminar Fellow (2020) of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations & Voluntary Action (ARNOVA), and Doctoral Fellow (2022) of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Social Impact Strategy.

Dr. Mao is currently an assistant professor of nonprofit management at the University of Houston-Downtown. She served in editorial roles for the International Journal of Public Administration and Chinese Public Administration Review. She also supports ASPA's Section for Nonprofits (SNP), Section for Women in Public Administration (SWPA), and the Section on Chinese Public Administration (SCPA) in various leadership positions.

"I was very confident that I would be well supported during my PhD years at SPAA and pursue an academic career after graduation," she said. "I am glad that my dream of making an impact with my research and teaching is coming true."