News from the Bush School

Bush School Faculty, Dr. Kalena Cortes, Receives Prestigious Program Award

May 20, 2020

Dr. Kalena Cortes
Dr. Kalena Cortes

Congratulations to Dr. Kalena Cortes for being selected as a recipient of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Faculty Travel Grant Program Award. Dr. Cortes is an Associate Professor in the Department of Public Service and Administration at the Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service. She is also is a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in the Economics of Education program, a Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), and most recently has been appointed a Scholar in the Mindset Scholars Network. Dr. Cortes was selected from a competitive pool of SEC applicants by a selection committee made up of peer faculty.

This award gives faculty from the SEC an opportunity to travel to another SEC institution to exchange ideas, develop grant proposals, conduct research, present lectures, or carry out other academic activities. Dr. Cortes’ research interests are in the area of the economics of education. Her previous research focuses have been on issues of equity and access, identifying educational policies that help disadvantaged students at the PK-12 and postsecondary levels.

Dr. Cortes will visit the University of Tennessee-Knoxville to work with her coauthor, Dr. Celeste Carruthers, Associate Professor of Economics. Dr. Cortes said, “Celeste Carruthers from UT- Knoxville, Carolyn Heinrich from Vanderbilt University, and I started working on evaluating an important policy intervention in the state of Tennessee, called tnAchieves, which is part of the Tennessee Promise program. Tennessee Promise and its nonprofit partnering organization tnAchieves launched an exciting large-scale mentoring program aiming to support student transition from high school to college. We obtained a one-of-a-kind database on nearly 6,700 mentors and 33,000 student mentees from three graduating high school cohorts. Importantly, the assignment of mentors to mentees by tnAchieves is random! Okay, I should say very close to random; that is, within high school and gender, matches are assigned randomly.” Dr. Cortes added that to date, there has never been such a large-scale randomized mentorship-mentee program and that there is a wealth of anecdotal support for the importance of mentors in supporting aspiring college students—particularly those who would be the first in their families to enroll.

Dean Welsh noted Dr. Cortes’ dedication to her work, “Congratulations Kalena! One more example of how people are appreciating your great work!” Dr. Cortes added, “I’m thankful for this opportunity and excited to visit the University of Tennessee-Knoxville to work on this unique ed-policy intervention.”