URI names new director for its Social Science Institute for Research, Education, and Policy

Associate Professor Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz aims to build connections, engage students, faculty

Posted on

KINGSTON, R.I.— April 26, 2018- The University of Rhode Island has appointed Associate Professor of Political Science Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz to the position of director of the Social Science Institute for Research, Education, and Policy.

“As director, I want to establish a core group of faculty that can work together to translate social science research into information policy makers can utilize and apply to the state’s public problems,” explained Pearson-Merkowitz, a Providence, R.I. resident.

“My goal is to build connections with nonprofits, state agencies, the state legislature, the governor and local governments so that when they need policy advice or evaluation, they will turn to URI for this service. Eventually, I hope to build a ‘policy shop’ at URI similar to Dartmouth College’s Policy Research Shop, in which students and faculty engage in research directly for policy makers and non-profits.”

Pearson-Merkowitz along with Skye Leedahl, professor of Human Development and Family Studies, Aaron Ley, assistant professor of Political Science, and Melanie Brasher, assistant professor of Sociology and Anthropology,  have begun making these connections and doing related projects for the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, and the Rhode Island Foundation. She hopes to extend this work to many more agencies and organizations.

“URI faculty are helping analyze information using social science techniques and perspective for these agencies,” said the Washington, D.C. native. “I would like to build on these successes and grow the center to a self-sustaining organization that serves the state and translates academic expertise into usable policy and management information.”

“We are excited to have Dr. Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz lead the newly formed Social Sciences Institute for Research, Education, and Policy (SSIREP),” explained Jeannette Riley, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Dr. Pearson-Merkowitz will work with the executive board to guide the strategic direction of the institute and develop a long term vision. With her strong record of research in public policy and her experience with Rhode Island State departments, higher education institutions, and community based organizations positions, she is well positioned to facilitate connections between faculty and students with public policy makers and interdisciplinary research grant opportunities in both the public and private sectors. I am confident that with her leadership, the Institute will thrive and bring well-deserved recognition to URI for it’s important work in the social sciences.”

Pearson-Merkowitz joined the URI Political Science Department in the fall of 2009. The previous spring, she earned her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research and teaching interests are in workforce development, immigration, education and housing policy, economic inequality, and American political parties. Her work has been funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Russell Sage Foundation, and her scholarly manuscripts have appeared in some of the top political science journals,  including the Journal of Politics and the American Journal of Political Science.

The Social Science Institute for Research, Education, and Policy (SSIREP) at the University of Rhode Island is a campus-wide consortium that brings together a wide variety of strong campus units. The institute fosters interdisciplinary programs in scholarly research, teaching and learning, and outreach to students, faculty, business, government, and the community. In addition, the institute’s affiliated faculty conduct program and policy evaluations for Rhode Island’s government and nonprofit agencies.

Olivia Ross, an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at URI and public relations major, wrote this press release.