Faculty Perspectives: Elizabeth Ananat

Elizabeth Ananat

Elizabeth Ananat, Associate Professor of Public Policy Studies and Economics

Bass Connections Project Teams: Where Does the Money Go? Federal Spending on American Children and Racial and Educational Inequality as a Consequence of Family Structure: Learning from Shotgun Marriages

Ananat’s Where Does the Money Go? project team investigated how much the federal government spends on young children. The team focused on federal spending in four main areas – cash, childcare, housing and nutrition – and produced a final report intended for use by policymakers, advocates for children and families, news media and citizens.

Ananat also co-led the Racial and Educational Inequality as a Consequence of Family Structure project team, which investigated the link between family structure and educational outcomes of children in North Carolina using previously unavailable birth and marriage data. The team produced a coauthored paper that was accepted for publication in a top-rated, peer-reviewed family studies journal.

Below are excerpts from Ananat’s remarks at a Bass Connections information session for faculty.

Shaping a project over time

The 2013-14 project was a great experience in terms of figuring out what sort of research tasks – including primary data collection – undergraduates are capable of and what could be a meaningful experience for them. Though the project took a bit of fine-tuning, with practice we learned to refine what worked based on our group’s dynamic and the type of research question we were asking.

In the project’s second year, I was on leave, but my co-leader [Education & Human Development theme leader Anna Gassman-Pines] produced a high-quality article with all the undergraduates on the team as co-authors.

Building community and fostering student engagement

In 2016-17, our second team worked on a white paper that analyzed how federal money is spent on early childhood in this country. The white paper was a very positive experience for students because there were a lot of different tasks they could work through, including literature reviews, gathering and crunching data and quickly arriving at new conclusions that no one had before.

The students also loved having a chance to present their work through the EHDx Talks. Having the public talk as a goal throughout our project really helped students boil down all the information they’d been working with in an interesting and accessible way. They also had the chance to give their talk a second time at a Center for Child and Family Policy dinner.

Another aspect of the project that made the students excited was that we, as team leaders, didn’t start out knowing all the answers to our research questions. We gave the students guidance, but the project wasn’t ours, it was theirs. Once our students understood that they had to figure out how to arrive at answers – and that there was no wrong answer – they got very excited. They just had to figure it out together.

The students used GroupMe and created a whole community among themselves and were sharing information all the time. They had to blog before each meeting and read each other’s posts, and they had to reflect at the end about what they’d learned.

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