News, On Campus, Administration

Shaun Dougherty Now Heads New Catholic Education Research Initiative

Shaun Dougherty now heads the Catholic Education Research Initiative, a project within the Lynch School of Education and Human Development (LSEHD) that began last fall, according to a University release.

“Shaun is coming because he’s a first rate researcher,” Stanton Wortham, the dean of LSEHD, said. “He does large data set research. He’s an applied economist, and so he tries to get large datasets in order to answer questions about what sorts of policies work and how they work and how different contexts function and so forth.”

Dougherty, who previously worked at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development, said the Catholic Education Research Initiative consists of various Ph.D. students and a few members of the University’s Catholic Education Committee. 

“This was sort of conceived by [Wortham] and Father Leahy in the president’s office, and then there’s a University-wide Catholic Education Committee, and it’s comprised of sort of all the people who sit across the university who are interested in either the provision or study of Catholic education,” Dougherty said.

Wortham said that understanding Catholic education is essential when researching what Catholic schools can do to improve teaching.

“[Shaun’s] a person who went to a Catholic university, I think, for some of his graduate training and grew up in a Catholic family,” he said. “So he’s interested in Catholic schooling, but he also is a first rate researcher, and he’s not going to do this by himself. His job is sort of to be a catalyst where he’s going to bring together people who have expertise in the relevant area of Catholic schooling.”

According to Dougherty, research on Catholic education often goes unseen by people who are not Catholic. 

“A lot of research, not all but a lot of research on Catholic education has been produced for and placed in outlets that are exclusively about Catholic education and not part of a more general research portfolio about education work that would reach a more general audience,” Dougherty said.

So, Dougherty said the Catholic Education Research Initiative aims to share its research about Catholic education with a large group of people, not just those in the Catholic Church.

“The focus of the initiative is to try and bump up the profile of some of the research that’s being produced,” Dougherty said. “So some of that’s just working to take the already great work that’s happening by scholars interested and focused on Catholic education and trying to get it out into a broader audience.”

According to Wortham, the research team knows Catholic education is doing something fundamentally right, but they want to dive deeper into the question of how this is done.

“Nobody’s really done systematic research on how do Catholic schools do that and you know, some do it better than others, and what techniques do they use and how could they improve what they do?” Wortham said. “And we really don’t know the answer. We know that they’re doing something distinctive there and that a lot of them are doing something that’s important and good for the students. But we really don’t understand the details.”

Dougherty said that he is hopeful this research initiative will shine a positive light on LSEHD and reflect the esteemed nature of BC.

“So I think one of the ways that will contribute positively to the University as a whole, hopefully, is by reflecting even more favorably right, like creating another way to positively reflect on Lynch and the BC community at large,” Dougherty said.

January 22, 2023