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Final Davenport Discussion of the Semester Concludes with Featured Guest, Deborah Feng

Group photo with Deb Feng

On November 7th, the Davenport Institute of Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy (SPP) hosted its last Davenport Discussion session of the fall semester featuring former city manager of Cupertino, former associate center director at NASA, current executive director of the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce, and advisory council member at the Davenport Institute, Deborah Feng. SPP students attended the lunch and discussion to learn about working in an agency at the federal level, city government, and how to navigate potential career paths. 

Feng had initially envisioned a career in broadcast journalism after she graduated with a degree in mass communications, but an inadvertent wrong turn while driving on the interstate placed her at the front gate of NASA, where she spent the next three decades serving in an executive agency. Feng entered NASA as an administrative assistant, then worked her way up to a financial analyst and eventually associate center director at the AMES Research Center. Feng stressed that while it is always good to have a plan A, roughly 80 percent of life lives in plan B. 

Following her retirement in 2019, Feng felt that there was some unfinished business for her in public service, leading her to return to her home of Cupertino, CA. It was here that she served as the city manager for two years. In this position, she navigated the difficulties of a devastating wildfire, the COVID-19 pandemic, and defund the police movement. Feng noted that despite having differing opinions than that of the mayor and council, she was determined to help the city successfully navigate those challenges. 

After the discussion, Feng and the SPP students engaged in a positive question and answer session. Students asked questions pertaining to Feng’s tenure as the city manager, the most challenging aspect of the job, and how to navigate the outside influence and development of tech companies. Feng stressed that nothing can prepare you for dealing with the city council and the different prerogatives among members, and that it is important to form working relationships with stakeholders. Feng then left the SPP students with one last piece of advice: admit you don't know everything, and lean on others for support, and they will lean on you. 

We thank Deborah Feng for her willingness to speak with students and the ongoing support and insight she brings to the Davenport Institute.