Elsa Augustine, MPP, is a Research Development Manager for the inequity and poverty portfolio at the CSBS. We asked Elsa to share more about her role and experiences.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What led you to the CSBS?
I am originally from the suburbs of Boston but lived in St Louis (college), El Salvador (Peace Corps), Texas (immigration work), and California (graduate school) before landing in Champaign-Urbana.
I got my master’s degree in public policy from UC Berkeley and fell in love with social science research there. After graduate school, I worked with state and local government agencies in California on policy research covering criminal justice reform, housing, and the social safety net. I moved to Champaign with my now-husband in March 2020 and had my eyes on CSBS until this position became available in 2021. I jumped at the opportunity to work on social science locally with the center and officially join the Illinois community.
My husband and I now live right by West Side Park in Champaign. We have a houseful with our 7-month-old son, a sweet pandemic pup we adopted from the Hospice Hearts shelter in Urbana, and my 17-year-old Maine Coon cat who has been by my side since high school!
Could you tell us about the inequity and poverty grand theme? What are some of the major research topics your portfolio addresses?
I think that this is the broadest of CSBS’s grand themes. Inequity and poverty are two huge and often interrelated challenges. There are many societal inequities that lead to negative outcomes including poverty, while poverty in and of itself is an inequity and a natural driver of other inequitable circumstances. While the portfolio doesn’t only include research at the intersection of the two, that intersection is quite large and is an area that needs innovative, evidence-based solutions! Some major focuses of the portfolio right now include addressing inequities in education along race, ethnicity, and gender; food security; and exploring guaranteed basic income.
What are some examples of how the CSBS contributes to research development on campus?
CSBS does a number of research development activities around campus. One relatively new initiative is our Science and Society Initiative, which helps social and behavioral scientists integrate broader impact activities into their research and proposals. While this is a typical requirement of NSF proposals, more and more funders are looking for research that has impacts and benefits for communities beyond academia.
Relatedly, one of my favorite things about my role is connecting researchers to each other and to partners in the community. I’ve had the opportunity to connect researchers to programs at Unit 4 School District and am excited to support the new Food Security Working Group, which will bring together researchers from all across campus. I’m also currently supporting a funding proposal for a really exciting project to increase and improve access to STEM education and opportunities for Black and Latinx students from kindergarten through their career.
What are you excited about this coming semester?
I’ve really enjoyed getting involved in public engagement work on campus. One related initiative I’m really excited about is the Policy and Research Legislative Fellows Program. This is something I’ve had the opportunity to work on since its launch last year, and it has been amazing to see the projects that local legislators and Illinois graduate students have been working on together. I’m looking forward to being able to share more of the work our first cohort has done and seeing what’s next for this program!
What advice do you have for social and behavioral scientists seeking research development support?
Reach out! I think researchers often think they have to have a specific research project, proposal, or funding opportunity in mind before they can reach out to us, but that is not the case. We love to meet for coffee and get to know people on campus, and even if you don’t have something we can help you with in the moment it’s great for us to know you and your interests so we can keep you in mind when opportunities and ideas come our way. Also, I’m still relatively new to Illinois and welcome any opportunity to meet more researchers around campus.
What is your favorite memory of working at the CSBS?
Generally, slowly returning to life in person in such a warm and collaborative community has been wonderful. On that note, my favorite CSBS memory so far is the assistant faculty get together we hosted last spring (May 2022). It was great to finally meet so many people in person and have folks in the same room after so many years of Zoom and email, and some really exciting collaborations have come out of that.