Q&A: Faculty Affiliate Looks for Real World Applications

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


with Andy Grogan-Kaylor

Q & A

with Andy Grogan-Kaylor

Andy Grogan-Kaylor is a research fellow on WDI’s Performance Measurement & Improvement (PMI) team where he contributes to the research design, the design of data collection instruments and also leads the analysis of PMI projects. WDI has worked with Grogan-Kaylor since 2008, starting with a project to assess the multidimensional impact on low-income consumers of eyeglasses. He contributed to a series of WDI-led  impact assessment workshops, and worked with PMI on a project measuring the impact of formal sector employment with training and benefits targeting low-income women in Mexico City. He currently is working with PMI to assess the impact of an innovative virtual exchange course with students in the U.S. and MENA regions.

WDI: How did you get interested in this field of study?

Andy Grogan-Kaylor: There are probably two big reasons in my background that I became interested in this kind of work. First of all, I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, home to the University of Wisconsin, which has a longstanding tradition of working on international research and international development. Many of my friends’ parents did international work, and I suppose that influenced me from very early on. Second, after I completed my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer, living and working for two years in the Upper East Region of Ghana. That experience only deepened my interest in, and commitment to, international and development work.

WDI: How did you first come to work with WDI?

Grogan-Kaylor: By chance really.  A graduate student who was working with WDI, but also getting a degree in the School of Social Work, stopped by my office to ask some methodological questions. That conversation led to a larger conversation about the kind of projects that WDI works on. I expressed a lot of interest in the work of WDI. One thing led to another, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with the great WDI Performance Measurement and Improvement team for about a decade on a number of projects. 

“WDI’s PMI team is one of the most talented, most collaborative and most friendly teams I have ever had the pleasure to work with. So I’m always grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with them on problems and issues where the direct real world application is very clear.”

—Andy Grogan-Kaylor

WDI: What about this current project (Business and Culture Impact Assessment) intrigued you to agree to partner with working with the PMI team?

Grogan-Kaylor: I always try to work on social issues that have real world applications. But a lot of my research (which I still consider very valuable) is more “basic science” – trying to understand the interplay of parenting and child development across cultures (e.g. here and here). While this has been my primary focus, I also have done some work in pretty eclectic and diverse areas. And I can be convinced to work on almost any kind of program evaluation or social research problem if I’m working with bright, talented, friendly people. WDI’s PMI team is one of the most talented, most collaborative and most friendly teams I have ever had the pleasure to work with. So I’m always grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with them on problems and issues where the direct real world application is very clear.

WDI: You mention “direct real-world application.” Can you briefly explain what that means, and why it is valuable and interesting to you?

Grogan-Kaylor: A lot of the work that I do is trying to understand how family and parenting processes play out. For example, I’ve done a lot of work on the effects of physical punishment, conducting research that shows that physical punishment has an undesirable effect on child behavior and child mental health. That kind of research is very important, and can ultimately have an effect on programs and policies, but it can take a long time. Every project I’ve worked on with WDI has been an evaluation of the effects of a particular program, or in the case of the Business and Culture Impact Assessment, a course, so the real world application is a lot more clear.

WDI: What career advice would you give graduate students interested in your field?

Grogan-Kaylor: I think that we all have that “inner voice” that tells us what we are passionate about, or the social problems that we are motivated to work on. I try to tell all of the graduate students with whom I work to try to stay true to those ideas and issues that you feel passionate about. Academic work on social issues and social problems is very, very challenging, and takes a lot of hard work. To keep moving forward, you need to stay true to that voice inside you that tells you what are the most pressing issues that you in particular feel called to work upon.

Grogan-Kaylor also is a professor of Social Work at the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work. His current research focuses on the way in which parenting behaviors, like the use of physical punishment, or parental expressions of emotional warmth, have an effect on child outcomes like aggression, antisocial behavior, anxiety and depression, and how these dynamics play out across contexts, neighborhoods, and cultures.

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