In January, we welcomed three new analysts to our team. In this interview, they reflect on what brought them to Ithaka S+R and what they hope to accomplish through their work with us.

What attracted you to Ithaka S+R? 

Darnell Epps: I found the work around college in prison to be quite appealing, especially the goal of advancing educational equity through technology. Although I would later matriculate and graduate from Cornell University, the first college class I ever took was inside a prison, thanks to a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation. As a student on Cornell’s campus, I had access to the Mann and Olin libraries, the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, computers, film, and all kinds of research materials that I would never have had access to as an incarcerated student. I know Ithaka S+R is working hard to bridge that gap, and I was excited for the opportunity to help make that happen.

Dylan Ruediger: As someone with a humanistic background, I believe that higher education and cultural institutions are essential to the future of our democracy. My professional goal is to support these organizations as they navigate rapidly changing political, economic, and cultural contexts. Ithaka S+R is a leader among organizations that facilitate scholarship, teaching, and learning, exactly the kind of work I want to be doing. I’m also very excited by the opportunity that being here affords to work on a tremendously wide range of projects.

Makala Skinner: Ithaka S+R’s reputation for conducting robust research is what initially attracted me to the organization. As a researcher who cares deeply about methodologies and their ability to drive positive change within the education and cultural sphere, I was impressed by the quality of research Ithaka S+R produces and the multitude of institutions this research supports. And as I learned even more during the interview process about the kinds of research that S+R engages in–from quantitative surveys to qualitative interviews to evaluation work—and the kinds of organizations it serves–higher education institutions, professional associations, museums, libraries—I was hooked.

What projects are you currently working on?

Dylan Ruediger: Quite a few! Since starting here in January, I’ve helped finish up the Teaching with Primary Sources project (the report will be published later this month) and gotten integrated into the Teaching with Data in the Social Science and Supporting Big Data Research projects. I’m also helping shape several new initiatives, including forthcoming work on the future of academic conferences. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much time I’m getting to spend developing new projects, but also grateful for the chance to see projects in the middle and late stages, so I can see the full lifecycle.

Makala Skinner: I am excited to be working on several projects aimed at improving outcomes for cultural heritage organizations and professionals. Over the next several years, I will be working in partnership with the Society of American Archivists to conduct A*CENSUS II, which will provide an updated snapshot of the current state of the archival profession, its practitioners, and its supporting organizations. Through this project, we will survey both individual archivists and the directors of archival organizations to see how the field has evolved since the original A*CENSUS nearly two decades ago. I am also working closely with the Rare Book School to provide evaluation and strategy development for The Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship for Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Heritage, a six-year program aimed at advancing multicultural collections through innovative and inclusive curatorial practice and leadership. 

Darnell Epps: I’m currently contributing to the prison education work funded by Ascendium. Right now, we’re focusing on the issue of censorship and self-censorship, and the ways in which censorship affects the quality of educational programming inside prison. I’m also working on the “Big-Deal” project, and teasing out how academic libraries and researchers are dealing with the rising costs of scientific journals.

What are your larger goals for working to improve the higher education and cultural sectors?

Makala Skinner: People from different backgrounds have historically been excluded—explicitly or implicitly—from higher education and cultural sectors, to the detriment of both those who were excluded and the institutions themselves. I engage in education research with the goal of increasing inclusivity so that people from diverse backgrounds not only have access to higher education and cultural institutions, but can shape, lead, and change those spaces to benefit society writ large. I have a particular interest in work that supports people from low-income backgrounds.

Darnell Epps: I want to improve the quality of higher education in prison. Many of the men and women in prison come from low-income communities, where public schools have historically underperformed, mainly due to systemic failures. At the same time, these same communities have been devastated by mass incarceration. Working to increase educational opportunities for that population is a way of ameliorating some of those systemic failures. More broadly, increasing educational access will also increase appreciation for our cultural institutions, and the vital role they have in our society.

Dylan Ruediger: Universities, libraries, and other cultural institutions are so important to our hopes for a more just, sustainable, and equitable society. I want to be in a position to help them continue to do the things they already do well and find pathways to better support student learning and robust research agendas in all fields that address crucial issues we face.  On a personal level, I’m particularly interested in helping make the case for the value of the humanities.