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Increasing diversity in the sciences through the Meyerhoff Scholars Program: An interview with Freeman Hrabowski, President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County – Episode #111

HrabowskiThe Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) is at the forefront of efforts to increase diversity among future leaders in the sciences. It was launched in 1988 to provide financial assistance, mentoring, advising, and research experience to African American undergraduate students committed to obtaining Ph.D. degrees in science, engineering and related fields. Today the application process is open to prospective undergraduate students of all backgrounds who plan to pursue doctoral study in the sciences or engineering and who are interested in the advancement of minorities in those fields. Since its launch, the program has graduated over 1,000 students. Alums have earned over 200 Ph.D.s, including over 40 M.D. Ph.D.s, and many other graduates are currently in Ph.D. programs.

To learn more, we are joined by one of the founders of the program, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, who is today the President of UMBC. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including more than 20 honorary degrees and a profile on 60 Minutes. President Obama named him chair of his Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. His new book is titled, “Holding Fast to Dreams” and includes a chapter on Meyerhoff Scholars Program.

Web extras: President Hrabowski discusses the role of ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the program [click here] as well as some highlights in terms of results [click here]. (The evidence of effectiveness of the program is also reviewed in this 2011 journal article.) He also describes the importance of first-year student performance [click here]. And finally, he discusses the ongoing replication of the program at two other universities [click here].

How Allegheny County’s Data Warehouse is improving human services through integrated data: An interview with Erin Dalton, Allegheny County Department of Human Services – Episode #110

Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, is recognized as a leader in using data to improve the results of its human services programs. In particular, the county’s Department of Human Services (DHS) created its Data Warehouse in 1999. The initiative stated by consolidating its own internal human services data relating to topics such as behavioral health, child welfare and homeless services. Over time, the warehouse expanded to include data from other county agencies as well as the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

To learn more, we’re joined by Erin Dalton. She is the Deputy Director for the Office of Data Analysis, Research and Evaluation within DHS.

Web extras: Erin Dalton discusses what beneficial capabilities are not possible if a county does not have integrated data [click here]. She also explains what new features of the Data Warehouse are being developed. [click here].

How Philadelphia became a leader in the use of data and evidence: An interview with Maia Jachimowicz, V.P. for Evidence-Based Policy, Results for America, and former policy director to Mayor Michael Nutter – Episode #109

Michael Nutter served as Mayor of Philadelphia from 2008 to 2016. During his eight years in office, the city became a leader in the use of data, evidence and evaluation to improve outcomes for city residents. In 2014, Governing Magazine named the Mayor one of the Public Officials of the Year, noting, “Philadelphia isn’t an easy place to govern. But Mayor Michael Nutter has undoubtedly made an outsized impact on the city, creating a Philadelphia that’s cleaner, safer, smarter and more fiscally sound than the city he began leading in 2008.”

To gain insights into some of the steps the city took to be more results-focused and effective, we’re joined by Maia Jachimowicz. She served as Deputy Director for Policy and, starting in 2013, as Policy Director for the Mayor until 2016. She recently became ‎Vice President for Evidence-Based Policy at the nonprofit Results for America.

Web extra: Maia Jachimowicz provides an additional example of a city agency that became more results focused during the Nutter Administration. [click here]

The first-year effects of Mexico’s soda tax: An interview with Barry Popkin, Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health – Episode #108

Can a tax on sugary drinks reduce consumption and therefore fight obesity? The nation of Mexico, which has similarly high rates of obesity as the United States, is putting that question to the test. In 2013, Mexican lawmakers passed an excise tax on sugary drinks of 1 peso (about 8 cents) per liter, which is about a 10 percent tax. It also passed a tax on junk food.

A new study published in the British Medical Journal examines the effects on purchases of beverages in Mexico during the first year after implementation of the tax. To learn more, we’re joined by one of the articles co-authors, Barry Popkin. He is a Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health.

This is the second interview in our two-part series about Mexico’s soda tax. In part one, I spoke with Tina Rosenberg about how the tax came about.

Using behavioral insights to design smarter school lunchrooms: An interview with David Just, Co-Director, Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs – Episode #107

 How can schools use low-cost solutions to help children make healthier food choices? David Just (@DavidJust1) is an expert on that topic. An economist by training, he is a professor at Cornell University and co-director, with Brian Wansink, of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN Center). His research has included dozens of field and lab experiments that identify the subtle factors in the environment that can lead both children and adults to make the healthier food choices.

Further resources: For an interactive summary of “nudges” that can be used to create smarter lunchrooms, see this op-chart in the New York Times, co-created by David Just. You can also check out the Smarter Lunchrooms Self-Assessment created by the BEN Center.

How Mexico took on the soda industry and won, passing a soda tax: An interview with Tina Rosenberg, New York Times and Solutions Journalism Network – Episode #106

tina_rosenbergMexico consumes a lot of soda and its soda industry (particularly Coca-Cola) is very powerful. Even so, in 2013, Mexico’s congress was able to successfully pass a nationwide one-peso-per-litre (about 10%) tax on sugary drinks, over the opposition of the soda industry. How did it happen?

To gain insights, we’re joined by Tina Rosenberg (@tirosenberg), a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Her recent article in The Guardian is titled, “How one of the most obese countries on earth took on the soda giants.” She is the author of the “Fixes” column in the New York Times and also a co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network.

As Tina Rosenberg explains, there were several factors that helped pass the soda tax. One was a smart media campaign by the Nutritional Health Alliance in Mexico to raise awareness about the impact of soda. As example ad, at right, is titled “12 spoonfuls.” It asks: “Would you give them 12 teaspoons of sugar? Then why give them soda?”

This is the first interview in our two-part series about Mexico’s soda tax. In part two, I speak with Professor Barry Popkin of UNC on the estimated first year impacts of the tax.

Calling on states to close their youth prisons: An interview with Patrick McCarthy, President, Annie E. Casey Foundation – Episode #105

 The Annie E. Casey Foundation, through its juvenile justice initiative, has documented widespread maltreatment of youth in state-funded juvenile corrections facilities, including high rates of sexual victimization and the heavy-handed use of disciplinary isolation. The results include high levels of recidivism and annual costs that often exceed $100,000 per young person. The findings have led the foundation’s president, Patrick McCarthy, to call on states to close their youth prisons and use more evidence-based approaches that would be more effective, humane and cost efficient. He has also pledged the Foundation’s support to any state willing to close its youth prisons.

To learn more, we’re joined by Patrick McCarthy, who has led the Casey Foundation since 2010 and has been at the foundation since 1994. Prior to that he held a range of positions focused on youth and families, including division director within Delaware’s human services agency.

Doubling community college graduation rates through CUNY’s ASAP program: An interview with Donna Linderman, Dean for Student Success Initiatives, City University of New York – Episode #104

 Increasing the graduation rates at community colleges is an important national challenge. Nationally, less than 40 percent of community college students attain a degree or certificate — and students who come to campus underprepared for college-level work (those needing developmental or remedial classes) have graduation rates below 30 percent.

The City University of New York (CUNY) launched the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) in 2007 with the goal of doubling the graduation rates of community college students as well as encouraging timely graduation within three years. A rigorous, random assignment evaluation by MDRC found that ASAP nearly doubled the percentage of students needing developmental courses that completed an associate’s degree (40% versus 22% for the control group), by far the largest effects MDRC has found for a community college intervention. And CUNY’s own evaluation of the overall program (not just for those needing remediation) found that the program more than doubled graduation rates.

To learn more, we’re joined by Donna Linderman. She is the Dean for Student Success Initiatives at CUNY and the Executive Director of ASAP.

Colorado’s Family Planning Initiative: An interview with Larry Wolk, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment – Episode #103

To quote social policy expert Isabel Sawhill, “If we want to reduce poverty [in the U.S.], one of the simplest, fastest and cheapest things we could do would be to make sure that as few people as possible become parents before they actually want to.”

An important state initiative to do that is Colorado’s Family Planning Initiative. Launched in 2009, it has provided 36,000 long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) to low-income women through family planning health centers, while also increasing health care provider education and training. Since it’s launch, Colorado’s teen birth rate has been cut nearly in half: Both the birth rate and abortion rate for women ages 15-19 fell 48 percent from 2009 through 2014. Moreover, for every dollar invested in the LARC program, an estimated $5.85 was avoided within a three-year period by the Colorado Medicaid program.

To learn more, we’re joined by Dr. Larry Wolk, the Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Using food banks to fight diabetes and promote health for vulnerable populations: An interview with Dr. Hilary Seligman, Professor, University of California, San Francisco – Episode #102

Can food banks be used to address diet-sensitive disease in low-income communities? A new study of a pilot intervention suggests they can.

Between 2012 and 2014, researchers enrolled almost 700 food pantry clients with diabetes in a six-month pilot intervention in three states. The intervention provided participants with diabetes-appropriate food, blood sugar monitoring, primary care referral, and self-management support. The results, published in Health Affairs, show small but important improvements on a range of health indicators — with larger effects for those with the most series cases of diabetes. While the findings will need to be confirmed by an impact evaluation (already underway), the intervention creates a model for food banks to use to address diet-sensitive disease in low-income communities. The study also shows the value of running pilot programs to test the feasibility of innovative social programs and to “work out the kinks” before more rigorous evaluation.

To learn more, we’re joined by Dr. Hilary Seligman, the lead author of the study. She is a professor of medicine, epidemiology an biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, a practicing physician, and Senior Medical Advisor and Lead Scientist at Feeding America.