Kohl Competition funds research seeking to improve people’s lives in U.S., abroad

Sen Herb KohlThe La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison awarded funding for five projects through the Herb Kohl Public Service Research Competition. Earlier this year, former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl pledged $300,000 annually for five years to support nonpartisan research that informs critical public policy and governance debates and advances evidence-based decision-making.

“By driving competitive research initiatives and incorporating the student experience and greater community into faculty-led projects, the La Follette School is enabling new forms of collaboration and hopefully, implementation of impactful ideas,” said Sen. Kohl, a member of the La Follette School of Board of Visitors and a 1956 alumnus of UW–Madison.

“That’s why we support the La Follette School’s excellent track record of preparing its students to look to the future, the big picture and the universal, as well as the present and local,” he said.

Members of the selection committee were Board of Visitors member Chuck Pruitt, La Follette School Director Professor Don Moynihan, and Professor Susan Yackee, director of the Board of Visitors.

“The wide range of proposals reflects the broad depth of expertise at the La Follette School,” said Pruitt, a former member of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents. “This research is the essence of The Wisconsin Idea with the potential to change and improve lives not only in Wisconsin but around the world.”

The funded projects, lead faculty members, and amount awarded are:
• Children in poverty: This project seeks to establish a Wisconsin-based national network linking neuroscience to poverty, expose graduate students to emerging research in this area, and amplify novel research by UW–Madison faculty members with community leaders, state policy-makers, and national media – Barbara Wolfe, the Richard A. Easterlin Professor of Economics, Population Health Sciences, and Public Affairs

• Minimum wages and immigrants’ health: This research will examine different immigrant groups’ health response to minimum-wage increases and will inform state and federal policymakers about the impact of these wage increases on the health of immigrants, who have grown from 2.5 percent of the Wisconsin population in 1990 to 4.5 percent in 2010 – Yang Wang, assistant professor of public affairs

• Improving food security, reducing poverty in developing countries: This project seeks to understand the extent and impact of counterfeit and poor-quality fertilizer among subsistence farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa with the goals of improving regulation and productivity and of reducing poverty in Kenya – Emilia Tjernström, assistant professor of public affairs

• Preventing unintended pregnancy: Goals of this project include informing public policy and governance debates on contraceptive choice, advancing evidence-based decision-making in Wisconsin, and improving lives by avoiding unintended, unplanned, and unwanted pregnancies in Wisconsin – Tim Smeeding, the Lee Rainwater Distinguished Professor of Public Affairs and Economics

• Understanding Alzheimer’s and dementia: This project uses the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study’s extensive data to examine why educational attainment reduces the risk of dementia – the most costly public health issue facing older adults in the United States – and to highlight the unique ways that social scientists and medical researchers can collaborate to advance the science behind Alzheimer’s disease and dementia research – Pam Herd, professor of public affairs and sociology

Wolfe’s project is an outreach award to increase exposure and influence to ongoing faculty research, and the other four projects are research awards to support the collection of data or analysis of existing data. Three of the projects (Tjernström, Wang, Smeeding) will allow faculty members to hire La Follette School students as project assistants (PAs).

“In addition to supporting faculty research, the Kohl competition encourages investments in explaining the value of this research,” said Yackee. “The La Follette School looks forward to sharing these projects with a larger audience than typical academic research.”