Investing in evidence-based decision-making

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Economist Lauren Russell teaches students to put research into practice

“I would define myself as an empirical economist, which means I'm constantly working with data,” says Lauren Russell, who comes to Fels from Dartmouth College’s Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences. “My work is grounded in theory, but it's really more about answering practical questions with economics tools.” In her own research, Lauren focuses on higher education issues that are related to policy; for example, she is wrapping up a collaborative research project on income diversity in selective universities. “There's a lot of useful academic knowledge that practitioners just aren't aware of, and then there are issues that practitioners are dealing with that academics aren't addressing,” she says. “Finding connections between the academic research and real-world practice is important to me and supported at Fels.”

As a new Professor of Practice at Fels, Lauren will have ample opportunity to connect research and practice in the classroom and beyond. In the upcoming academic year, she looks forward to teaching Public Economics for both the Full-time and Executive Master in Public Administration students, along with Program Evaluation and Data Analysis in the spring. “My approach to teaching economics is rooted in real-world application,” she explains. “I use a lot of class simulations and case studies based on the news or current research.” Lauren notes that her students have varying levels of experience with classroom economics, so she is developing ways to include foundational concepts and frameworks as well as more challenging topics. “This is my chance to introduce future public servants to the best of what my field has to offer and teach them what they need to know—not necessarily what a typical university says Econ 101 should be,” she adds.

In addition to imparting her deep knowledge of quantitative methods and conceptual approaches to economics, Lauren has been making calls and coordinating with nonprofit and government agencies on upcoming Fels Lab projects. While Full-time MPA students have the option to identify their own capstone projects, as Executive MPA students typically do, Lauren expects they may find it beneficial to match with a local project that has been vetted for scope and subject matter. “For Fels Lab I’ve taken the initiative to reach out to these organizations and make sure the projects are well-defined,” she says. “And the organizations are enthusiastic about working with Fels students.”

Lauren believes teaching Fels students offers a valuable opportunity to make an impact. “Students who are coming to Fels want to go into public service and other careers where making evidence-based decisions can improve lives,” she says. “At Fels, I can invest in mentoring and advising these students and take the time to develop really innovative courses.”

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