Scholars in Service advance solutions to social issues

As the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated systemic inequities and strained public programs, four Stanford faculty will serve within government and community-based organizations to advance solutions to current social issues in the coming year. 

(L–R): Stanford faculty members Anisha Patel, Suzan Carmichael, Ira Lit and Gopi Shah Goda will serve as Scholars in Service in 2021-22. (Image credit: Courtesy Haas Center for Public Service)

The faculty are participating in the Scholars in Service program, sponsored by Stanford Impact Labs and the Haas Center for Public Service, which offers funding and support for up to a year of full-time service. Starting this summer, the faculty members will work closely with policymakers, advocates and community leaders to find and promote practical, evidence-based ways to make progress on issues with local to national scope.

  • Anisha Patel, associate professor of pediatrics, will work with community organizations to enhance programs providing children and their families in the San Joaquin Valley of California with access to healthy food.
  • Suzan Carmichael, professor of pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology, will work with the Louisiana Department of Public Health to identify strategies to reduce maternal mortality, especially among Black mothers in Louisiana.
  • Ira Lit, associate professor of education, will work in the Office of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker to inform federal legislation to advance justice and equity for families, with a focus on education and economic policies.
  • Gopi Shah Goda, senior fellow and deputy director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), will serve with the White House Council of Economic Advisers, focusing on federal policies related to long-term care, retirement and social insurance programs.

 

Reducing food insecurity for Latino children in California’s San Joaquin Valley

Food insecurity is associated with poor health and decreased learning for children, and the San Joaquin Valley has some of the highest rates of food insecurity statewide. 

Anisha Patel, an associate professor of pediatrics who practices at the Gardner Packard Children’s Health Center, will work with Cultiva la Salud and Dolores Huerta Foundation, two community-based organizations serving Latino immigrant families in the San Joaquin Valley. Their goal is to increase children’s access to healthy and appealing food. 

Patel and trainees at Stanford, colleagues at the Nutrition Policy Institute, and staff from both organizations have worked with parents in six school districts to identify barriers families face in accessing school meals during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team will build on this work in the coming year to investigate how school meals can be more effective in addressing food insecurity.

They are using a research process known as photovoice, in which parents photograph meals and participate in focus groups to identify interventions that districts could employ to make meals more appealing and nutritious. The process helps community members document their experiences, identify solutions and interventions to be tested, and advocate for change. 

Patel said, “I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to partner with Cultiva la Salud and Dolores Huerta Foundation to advance our understanding of evidence-based strategies to increase participation in school meals programs that are known to promote students’ health and learning. This project is timely, as California recently became the first state in the nation to permanently provide free school meals to all K-12 public school students.”

  

Reducing maternal mortality in Louisiana, especially among Black mothers

Women in the United States are more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth than in any other high-income country in the world. While maternal mortality has declined in most other high-income countries, the U.S. maternal mortality rate has consistently increased over the last 30 years, with stark disparities according to race and wealth. Louisiana has some of the worst maternal health outcomes in the United States, and Black mothers are more than twice as likely to die as other mothers.

Suzan Carmichael, a perinatal and nutritional epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology in the Stanford School of Medicine, will work with the Louisiana Perinatal Quality Collaborative (LaPQC), a program of the Louisiana Department of Public Health, and advocacy groups. Their goal is to reduce maternal mortality in Louisiana, especially among Black mothers. 

Her team will study structural and social contributors that are root causes of maternal deaths and conditions that put pregnant women at risk of dying (known as severe maternal morbidity). They plan to develop ways to integrate structural and social determinants into maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity case reviews and to identify prevention strategies. Additionally, Carmichael will volunteer with a LaPQC community partner to help guide her approach to communicating research. 

“This is an opportunity to get out of my academic silo and start building relationships and experiences that will help me conduct research that is more relevant and impactful. The goal is to find ways to enhance connections across community, care providers and research that lead to better maternal health and equity,” Carmichael said.

 

Supporting equity and justice in federal education and economic legislation

With 50.7 million children attending public schools in the United States each year, federal policy can play a key role in closing the education opportunity gap and ensuring the current and future well-being of youth and communities.

Through Scholars in Service, Ira Lit, an associate professor with the Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE), will serve as a senior policy fellow in the Office of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). Lit will focus on equity and justice for youth and families in education and economic policy and legislation. 

In this role, he will draw on his work as faculty director of the Stanford Teacher Education Program and as faculty co-lead for the GSE’s initiative on Learning Differences and the Future of Special Education to use research findings in policy and political communications.

“The pandemic has highlighted the value of educators and education to our society, while also surfacing some longstanding, deep inequalities in our systems of education and general welfare for youth and families. We have a unique opportunity to reimagine and advance policies that can promote more just and inclusive opportunities for our nation’s youth and families,” Lit noted. “I look forward to offering colleagues in the Senate office my expertise in analyzing and synthesizing educational and other social science research to help identify promising practices in this regard. I am also confident that I will learn and grow substantially in ways that will help to shape and inform my future work at Stanford.”

 

Focusing on social insurance programs for aging Americans with the White House Council of Economic Advisers

Programs such as Social Security and Medicare that millions of Americans rely on for well-being as they age face increasing financial strain due to demographic shifts, including longer lifespans and fewer births. The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to accelerate the exhaustion of Social Security and Medicare’s trust funds as job losses and health shocks lead more people to rely on public insurance programs. 

Gopi Shah Goda, a senior fellow and deputy director of SIEPR, will serve as a senior economist at President Biden’s White House Council of Economic Advisers. She will focus on policy proposals related to long-term care and health care, including social insurance programs such Medicare and Medicaid. Goda will work with the council to advise the President on economic policy based on data, research and evidence. 

Goda noted, “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to policy discussions in a meaningful way and to bring back what I learn to enrich my research and teaching.”

Program goals

The goal of the Scholars in Service program is to engage faculty in immersive placements with government agencies and community organizations in order to leverage their research expertise and enable them to experience directly challenges related to implementation as their organizations address some of society’s most complex social problems. Faculty serve from one quarter to a full academic year, contributing to their host organizations in ways that also enhance their scholarship. 

“Through the Scholars in Service program, Stanford faculty bring analytical rigor to partnerships with outside leaders generating and implementing policy solutions, managing programs and advocating for change. These in-depth exchanges position our faculty to learn directly from experts working on the frontlines and can spark new, evidence-based insights and approaches with the potential to improve the lives and well-being of people in our local communities and across the United States,” said Jeremy Weinstein, professor of political science and faculty director of Stanford Impact Labs.  

Janelle B. Smith

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