Emily Gates was pleasantly surprised to learn that she had won an early career award from the American Evaluation Association (AEA)—the major professional association for people in her field.
“[The AEA] stopped offering the award for a couple years … so I wasn’t expecting to receive the award,” Gates said. “I was surprised.”
Gates, an assistant professor of measurement, evaluation, statistics, and assessment in the Lynch School of Education and Human Development (LSEHD), said her primary academic interest is in the field of evaluation, which seeks to measure the effectiveness of public policies and programs.
Though she has a background in evaluating health policies, Gates said her research now primarily focuses on educational settings.
“My scholarship focuses on how do we actually know if policies and programs are making a difference in people’s lives,” Gates said. “What questions do we ask and what methods do we use to actually assess the contribution of that program or service to people’s lives?”
The Maria Guttentag Promising New Evaluator Award recognizes scholars who make notable accomplishments in the field of evaluation within five years of receiving their master’s or doctoral degree, according to the AEA website.
The award also requires recipients’ work to align with the AEA’s ethical guidelines, which Gates said she feels is especially important.
“[Evaluators] have to make sure that the way we ask questions is really respectful of people’s backgrounds in terms of their cultural backgrounds,” Gates said. “We want to make sure that people know why we’re collecting data, how we’re collecting data, what we’re using it for.”
According to Gates, the nomination process required her to obtain letters of support from all colleagues in the evaluation field who had received AEA awards in the past. Earning the recognition of people across the country who were accomplished evaluators in their own right was a gratifying experience, Gates said.
“To me, that’s what meant a lot, is that they saw my work as contributing to the field and they themselves were senior people in the field,” she said.
In her research so far, Gates said she has tried to employ a holistic and balanced approach while assessing different programs.
“I tried to say, ‘Let’s take a systems orientation,’” Gates said. “So, in a school, let’s make sure the whole school is better off and we’re not just adding another program without addressing structural issues within a school.”
Gates also said her evaluations strive to find more effective ways to reduce barriers and improve inclusivity in certain career fields—especially those which have traditionally attracted few women or people of color.
“Computer science and technology careers—not just historically but currently—tend to be very white male dominated, so they’re not very diverse in terms of women and in terms of students of color,” Gates said. “And so we evaluate a national initiative to see if what they’re doing is actually making a difference for diversity.”
Stanton Wortham, the Charles F. Donovan, S.J., Dean of LSEHD, said Gates brings an innovative and social justice-oriented approach to the evaluation field.
“She uses multiple methods—both quantitative and qualitative methods,” Wortham said. “She partners with organizations in ways that typically you don’t do, and she’s interested in issues of equity and justice, so she brings a whole set of different resources and approaches.”
According to Wortham, Gates’ approach closely aligns with the mission and values of BC.
“She can appreciate those people as more whole human beings and, you know, that fits with BC’s emphasis on formation—this notion that we’re really concerned to appreciate people as whole human beings with ethical and relational and emotional and other dimensions to their lives,” Wortham said.
Through her teaching, Gates said she hopes to inspire more people to become evaluators and bring new perspectives to the field.
“Historically, we have been focused on psychology education, in terms of the background of the fields, but we’re now working in a lot more diverse sectors,” Gates said. “So to me, part of what I hope to do in my position here is to welcome new people into the field of evaluation.”