A&S Alumni Spotlight - Shireen Deobhakta, Ph.D.
Shireen Deobhakta obtained her Ph.D. from UofL’s Department of Urban & Public Affairs in 2014, following an undergraduate degree in International Business from Ohio Wesleyan and an MBA from Ohio State. She is currently an Evaluation Researcher at REACH Evaluation which consults with non-profit, for-profit, philanthropic, and governmental entities in support of efforts to improve services and bring about organizational and community change. She was named one of Louisville Business First’s “2018 Forty Under 40.” We recently caught up with her.
How do you feel about your recent designation as one of Louisville’s “Forty Under 40?”
I feel honored, humbled, and excited at being selected for the “40 under 40” list. Not only is it very uplifting, it also inspires me to continue to be my best and to live life to the fullest.
What is an Evaluation Researcher? What do you do day to day?
An evaluation researcher designs and conducts evaluations of projects, programs and policies so that managers, funders, and policy-makers can make data-informed, evidence-based decisions. We seek to answer questions such as: is the program achieving its intended result?; how well is the program doing?; what course corrections may be necessary? At REACH, we strive to help decision-makers with their goal attainment objectives, improving the quality of their efforts, and ultimately contributing to social betterment. On a day to day basis, I conduct research, analyze data, and present findings through reports and formal presentations to stakeholders.
What sparked your interest in becoming an Evaluation Researcher?
I am a very strong believer in the practical application of research. When I finished my doctorate, I was at a crossroads of whether to pursue a career in academia or practice. I chose practice because I believed that is where my research would be most impactful. Being an evaluation researcher puts me at the forefront of policy decisions that affect the lives of real people. It adds a very meaningful dimension to my work.
What is your favorite spot on campus and why?
My favorite spot on campus is probably the Speed Art Museum. Creating a culture of learning through art, history, and innovation is not only wholesome for our community, but also catalytic for our future generations.
Can you tell me about a project or story that you consider to be the most significant in your education?
The most significant aspect of my education was probably my dissertation on the social costs of gentrification in a rapidly redeveloping neighborhood in Cincinnati. I interviewed all the actors involved in the process of redevelopment, from city officials to developers to social service organizations to businesses to newcomers to those that had become displaced as a result of the redevelopment. I remember interviewing one particular woman who was homeless at the time of the interview. After becoming homeless and suffering a series of misfortunes, she continued to strive and was writing a book using the library computers and a thumb drive. Her goal was to become a social worker so that she could help those in need. I was very inspired by her resilience, kind nature, determination, and positive attitude in life. I am lucky to say that I am still in touch with this incredible person.
Who or what inspires you?
As corny as it sounds, I am most inspired by my mother. I admire the fact that she is such a strong, passionate, caring person who never lets adversity bring her down.
If you could have dinner with five famous people from history, who would they be?
Karl Marx, David Harvey, Richard Thaler, Alan Greenspan, and Benazir Bhutto. That would make for a very interesting dinner!
What was your favorite graduate course and why?
My favorite graduate course was Urban Political Economy, taught by Dr. Cynthia Negrey. It opened my eyes to so many new concepts, authors, and literature. It taught me how to view the urban city through a new, better, wiser, more nuanced lens.
For students who might be considering graduate school, what is some advice you would give them?
Do your research and know what you’re getting into. Don’t sweat it if you don’t know what you want to specialize in at the beginning of your graduate school career – you’ll find your calling along the way. Never lose sight of why you began this journey – it will help you make better decisions!