Prof. Castleman Enhances the Mentorship Model at EdPolicyWorks


Ben Castleman joined EdPolicyWorks, a joint research center between the Curry School of Education and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, officially in the fall 2013. His research focuses on policies to improve college access and success for low-income students. Several of his papers examine innovative strategies to deliver high-quality information about the college-going process to low-income students and their families, and to ease the process of students and families getting professional support when they need assistance.

Part of Castleman’s role at EdPolicyWorks is mentoring students. Currently, Castleman is advising a number of doctoral students, including Kelli Bird in Education Policy at the Curry School and Andrew Barr in the Department of Economics at U.Va. 

“We were meeting to discuss an upcoming project, and I had laid out the broad strategies we would pursue in the intervention,” explained Castleman. “I remember both students saying ‘I hear what you are saying’ but what are the hypotheses that motivate these strategies, and what informs our beliefs for why these approaches will impact people’s decision making.  In that moment it was apparent to me that they had a tremendous amount to offer our team in these real-world discussions.”

Castleman meets with Bird and Barr regularly for advising and to discuss their current research projects. 

“Working with Ben has helped me motivate my research,” said Bird. “It is one thing to have really solid, interesting question, but I need to make sure it can relate to people in the real-world.”

Bird is also a fellow through the Virginia Education Science Training (VEST) program at U.Va., sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Through the VEST program, Bird has been exposed to a number of research experiences at U.Va.

“The approach to research is different at EdPolicyWorks,” said Bird.  “The faculty partner with you to pick questions that are interesting and important.” 

Kelli BirdBird’s experience illustrates one of the core values of EdPolicyWorks: providing an intellectual home where students and faculty share and develop their interests in education.

“One of the things that is really important to me in my relationship with students is that it is a partnership, where we are co-collaborating as authors and scholars,” said Castleman. “We are sharing decision making about how experiments are designed and what intervention components will positively impact students.”

It is important to Castleman and the other faculty at EdPolicyWorks that students have real-world, authentic involvement in making the kinds of decisions that they will have to make when their careers are moving at full speed.

“I want them to have these experiences now so that they are better positioned to make research-based and practice-informed decisions when in their professional careers,” concluded Castleman.

Barr agreed.

“Ben has been incredibly generous with how he shares resources and opportunities,” said Barr. “The way that Ben interacts with students is very respectful of their opinions and abilities, and is sincere about having discussions on equal footing with students.

“He has exposed me to real-world experiments, taught me where pitfalls are, and encouraged me to be involved in a more hands-on way in my studies,” said Barr.

Castleman, Bird and Barr, will be working on several projects in the next year, including text messaging campaigns to support students to and through college, an evaluation an intensive college preparation program, and an investigation of a web-based platform that provides college faculty and administrators with early warning information about students who are struggling academically or socially.