Meet the New Sanford Faculty

Debuting new talent in big data, environmental economics, international affairs, and political inequality
Writer: 
September 30, 2014

Retelling the Story: Deondra Rose

 When Deondra Rose, assistant professor of public policy, scrolls through the day’s news, it’s often with a sense of déjà vu. “The question of whether the federal government over-reached was part of the Title IX debate, and it’s part of the national conversation about education policy today,” says Rose, whose work focuses, in part, on the effects of landmark education policies on the lives of American women and minorities. She’s at work on a book about the impact of higher-education grants and other post-World War II legislation on women’s citizenship opportunities. “I find myself inspired by lived experiences,” she says, and that preoccupation is both personal (she’s an avid reader of biographies) and professional: When her research requires that she interview key players in history, such as Bernice Sandler, known as the “Godmother of Title IX,” her students benefit from that experience, too. “Students who are actively looking for best practices and new ideas in public policy take seriously these lessons from history,” she says.

Excavating Data: Matthew Harding

Economist and big-data expert Matthew Harding studies how massive data sets inform policy solutions in the areas of health, nutrition, energy, and the environment. “I call it deep data rather than big data,” says Harding, who joins the Sanford faculty as assistant professor of public policy. “It’s the depth and range of the data sets we use—the way we’re able to show the layers and how they are linkable—that creates the value in the end.” As a faculty fellow with the Duke Energy Initiative, Harding plans to focus on “energy as a topic that unites stakeholders behind the common good,” he says. Harding will also continue the health and nutrition work he pioneered at Stanford University, studying consumer behavior through data sets collected by supermarkets and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “We have an opportunity here with big data to move away from designing policy in broad strokes,” he says, “and to construct public policy that’s more targeted to individual needs.”

Solving Policy Puzzles: Marcos Rangel

As a child growing up near the sugarcane fields of Brazil, economist Marcos Rangel suffered troubling bouts of bronchitis. Decades later, the assistant professor of public policy found a connection between health and the air pollution created when the fields were burned before harvesting for ethanol production. “My work shows that the effect of chronic exposure to biomass burning can even be seen in rates of premature births and low birth weight,” and is expected to have long-term health effects, he says. This “dirty side of clean fuel,” as he calls it, isn’t the only research topic inspired by his personal experience. “My dad was what Brazilians call ‘mulato’—a bad word among North Americans—and my mom is blond with blue eyes. As a result, my siblings and I do not look much alike, and I always wondered if this would make any difference in our lives,” he says. By studying the nuances of skin-color differences in human capital accumulation, he hopes “that this work can inform public policy of the challenges of race-based policies in a mixed-race world.”

Powering the Solar Debate: Steven Sexton

The same year Steven Sexton earned his Ph.D. in agriculture and resource economics, he was also competing for a slot on the 2012 Olympic triathlon team. The two activities were oddly linked, as he recalls. “We couldn’t practice in some of the bodies of water because they were so polluted from farm runoff and agro chemicals,” says Sexton, assistant professor of public policy and faculty fellow with the Duke Energy Initiative. Although he didn’t make the cut for the London Games, Sexton has honed his skills in microeconomic theory to address questions related to sustainability challenges. His research on California’s statewide program for individual rooftop solar adoption is sure to be a cited by other states interested in replicating the policy. “I’m interested in how to make solar cost-effective,” he says, “and my research calls attention to possibilities for community

  • Louise Flynn is the associate editor at Duke Magazine.