Batten School hires Mbiti, Shimshack

School hopes to announce more hires soon, Harding says


After interviewing at least 14 candidates, the Batten School has announced two new hires in the first in what is expected to be a series of additions to the school’s 39-member faculty.

Kelsey Grant | Cavalier Daily

The Batten School has announced the hiring of Econ Profs. Isaac Mbiti and Jay Shimshack to join the Batten School’s 39 existing faculty members.

The Batten School has brought at least 14 candidates in to interview since mid-November. Outgoing Batten School Dean Harry Harding said in an email to the Batten community Feb. 11 he hopes to announce more hires in the coming weeks.

“We will be making offers to additional candidates in the weeks ahead, and I’m optimistic that others will be joining Isaac and Jay in moving to the Batten School,” Harding said in the email.

Harding declined to offer additional comments other than the emails to the Batten community until the entire search process is complete.

Shimshack, who currently works at Tulane University, specializes in environmental policy with a specific focus on program evaluation.

“Answers to [how environmental policy programs work] inform the design of more effective, and cost effective, environmental policies for the future,” Shimshack said in an email.

Shimshack wrote five white papers for the United States Environmental Protection Agency between 2007 and 2009 on issues of policy enforcement and compliance. Shimshack said he focuses on policy compliance monitoring, policy transparency, environmental behavior of companies and human health as it relates to the environment.

In his Feb. 11 email, Harding said Shimshack’s technical work on regulatory policy would be useful to the Batten School.

“Jay is an award-winning teacher and a highly productive scholar whose research focuses on issues of public policy that are of great interest to the Batten School, including both environmental policy and health policy,” Harding said. “He will therefore help us build toward a critical mass of faculty in these important areas.”

Currently employed at Southern Methodist University, Mbiti is a development economist who focuses on education and youth employment initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa. He designs programs to obtain rigorous evidence to prove effectiveness of education policy initiatives.

“Typical approaches used by governments are thought to be ineffective so I am actively trying to test out the efficacy of different approaches that actually [prepare youth for the workforce] through a combination of appropriate skills and start-up capital,” Mbiti said in an email.

Mbiti said he is currently working on projects in Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania. He is affiliated with Jameel Poverty Action Lab, an internationally-renowned organization headquartered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which conducts carefully-designed and highly technical studies of programs and policies in the developing world.

“[Mbiti’s] interests in randomized controlled trials and in development policy will nicely complement our existing faculty, and will bring even more global perspectives to our program,” Harding said in his Feb. 7 email, announcing Mbiti’s hire.

Mbiti said one of the major challenges in his work is separating how successful a policy change is from how successful those who participated would have been on their own without the policy.

“Perhaps a new training program seems successful at first glance because participants do well after the training, but they might have been successful even without the training,” Mbiti said. “So we have to think carefully about how to generate rigorous evidence that establishes the causal impact of the program on youths’ livelihoods.”

Shimshack and Mbiti said the students‘’ and faculty’s academic reputations made him interested in coming to the University. Shimshack said the proximity to both Washington, D.C. and the Blue Ridge Mountains made Charlottesville appealing as well.

“I firmly believe in teaching, scholarship and outreach focused on the real world,” Shimshack said. “The Batten model of interdisciplinary dialogue is exciting. I admire the current Batten faculty and staff, and they seem like great folks as well.”

Shimshack said he would like to teach classes focused on environmental policy and microeconomics.

“I really enjoy showing students how simple quantitative tools can generate powerful insights into the design, implementation and evaluation of sensible public policy,” Shimshack said.

Mbiti said he hoped to teach students about the most recent innovations in quantitative analysis as applied to public policy decision making.

“As future policy makers and influencers, Batten students need to be prepared to be able to discern good evidence from bad evidence so that they can use empirical evidence to aid their decision making,” Mbiti said.

Both Shimshack and Mbiti gave an educational presentation to students and a research presentation to faculty during their two-day interview, a model all 14 candidates followed.

“A two day job interview may sound onerous, but it was actually quite fun,” Shimshack said. “I felt comfortable the entire time, which speaks well of the Batten community.”

Mbiti said the entire process of obtaining the job was difficult.

“One thing that I found unique was the involvement of students in the faculty recruitment process,” Mbiti said. “That is a big testament to the culture at Batten and U.Va. but also a reflection of the caliber of the student body here.”

Both Shimshack and Mbiti will begin their terms at the Batten School in the fall.

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