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Tonya Thornton Neaves

Research Assistant Professor, Director of Grants
Tonya Thornton Neaves



3351 Fairfax Dr., MS 3B1
Van Metre Hall – Room 677
Arlington, Virginia 22201

Fax: 703-993-8215



Dr. Tonya E. Thornton (formerly Neaves) is the Director of Grants at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. In this role, she works closely with faculty in developing proposals and securing contracts for the social, policy, and administrative sciences. She is also an Assistant Professor in the Master of Public Administration program and is the Coordinator for its Emergency Management and Homeland Security graduate certificate. Dr. Thornton is Co-PI for the Center for Resilient and Sustainable Communities and is an Advisory Council Member for Mason’s Institute for a Sustainable Earth, in which she serves as its liaison to the Fairfax County Energy and Climate Task Force. 

For nearly a decade, Dr. Thornton has been hosting a graduate study abroad seminar in Croatia in connection with the University of Zagreb and the University of Split exploring such topics as overcoming socio-political challenges and utilizing innovative methodologies for big data. Dr. Thornton has also been working with the National School of Administration and Magistracy in Cameroon to train future governmental employees across all levels of operation, where she once served as a Visiting Professor.

Prior to joining Mason, Dr. Thornton was the Director for the Mississippi Public Safety Data Laboratory at Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center. During that time, she worked closely with the Mississippi Highway Patrol and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. During this ten-year span, she trained law enforcement officers on how to analyze traffic records data in a timely, accurate, and consistent manner to assist the State of Mississippi in meeting its Highway Safety Performance Plan. Part of this effort was first developing said computational programs. 

As a scholar, Dr. Thornton’s research portfolio has included securing contracts from the Department fo Defense, Sandia National Laboratories, Virginia Department of Emergency Management, National Highway Safety Transportation Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Transportation Security Administration, and Federal Emergency Management Agency. To date, her total research funding approximates $6 million. Dr. Thornton has also published her efforts in the Review of Policy Research, Journal of Emergency Management, Review of Public Personnel Management, and the American Journal of Public Health. She has also co-authored edited volumes Managing Challenges for the Flint Water Crisis (2021) and The Role of Law Enforcement in Emergency Management (forthc.) and book chapters in The Future of Disaster Management in the U.S.: Rethinking Legislation, Policy, and Finance (2016), New Voices in the Old South: How Women and Minorities Influence Southern Politics (2008). She was also an editor for the National Academy of Public Administration and American Society for Public Administration’s Memos to National Leaders.

Dr. Thornton is very involved in her field as well, serving on the boards of several professional and non-profit organizations. As an active member of the American Society for Public Administration, she previously served as a District Representative to its National Council and is the Treasurer for its Section on Emergency and Crisis Management. Selected by former President, Janice Lachance, Dr. Thornton was chosen as a Program Co-Chair for its 2018 annual conference, coordinating 175 sessions, 750 presenters, and 1,200 attendees. She now serves as a Viewpoint Associate Editor for its Public Administration Review, the premiere journal for public administration, which focuses on connecting scholars with communities of practice. She now serves as Co-Chair for the Pandemic Task Force, and ad-hoc committee appointed by Presidents Kendra Stewart and Allan Rosenbaum. 

Dr. Thornton has a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy and Administration from Mississippi State University, where she also earned a Master of Public Policy and Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with an emphasis in the Geosciences. She has a strong planning and analysis background, with an emphasis in project management. She pursues innovative leadership, problem solving, and has been developing a model for the 4C’s (increased communication, enhanced coordination and cooperation, and meaningful collaboration). And, her areas of expertise include communal resiliency, emergency management, critical infrastructure, traffic safety, high threats, and grid security.

Areas of Research

  • Communal Resiliency
  • Emergency Management
  • Critical Infrastructure
  • High Threats
  • Traffic Safety
  • Rural Mortality
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Performance Management
  • Research Design
  • Survey Methodology