Shah Predicts Long-Term Impact of COVID on Sex Work Industry

Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah spoke to the Chicago Tribune about how the COVID pandemic has impacted the sex work industry. The lockdown has forced many sex workers to switch to offering online services, including phone encounters, texting and video streaming. Many sex workers are ineligible for jobless benefits and have found the transition to online services to be considerably less lucrative than their normal gigs. While the economy is starting to reopen, Shah predicted that the sex work industry will likely trail the pack. “I don’t think sex work will go back to its pre-pandemic state even when stay-at-home orders ease as potential clients will still feel wary of in-person meetings,” Shah said. “It will likely take longer, perhaps even until a vaccine, before people feel comfortable interacting in person for sex services.” 

Shah on Improving Sanitation in Rural Indonesia

Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah was featured in a Vox Dev video discussing a community health and sanitation project across 160 villages in East Java, Indonesia. “Poor sanitation and hygiene are leading causes of high mortality rates among children under 5 in developing countries,” said Shah, director of the Global Lab for Research in Action at UCLA Luskin. The project aimed to improve health and sanitation practices by promoting the construction of latrines in rural villages. However, it did not provide financial assistance to the communities, limiting the impact on children’s health, Shah said. “If we’re serious about getting some of these poorer households to build toilets, coupling the demand-side intervention with things like subsidies or financial incentives could get us to much higher rates of latrine construction” and improve the general health of individuals in rural communities, she said.


A Research Spotlight on the World’s Vulnerable People UCLA Luskin launches international outreach to identify strategies to empower women and children

By Mary Braswell

In Tanzania, programs aimed at improving women’s health have been in place for decades, but rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among adolescents remain high.

In El Salvador, several comprehensive centers for women needing health care, job training, legal help and protection from domestic violence have opened. Why aren’t more women taking advantage of these services?

Around the world, when well-intentioned policies to improve the lives of people fall short of expectations, researchers mobilize to investigate and advise.

This is the mission of a new initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs called the Global Lab for Research in Action.

The Global Lab’s focus on health, education and economic empowerment comes at a critical time, said Manisha Shah, professor of public policy and founding director of the initiative.

“There is so much need right now,” said Shah, whose extensive research as a development economist in Africa, Asia and Latin America has guided governments and agencies seeking effective, evidence-based policies.

Shah cites this sobering statistic: Of all new adolescent HIV cases in the world, three out of four are in sub-Saharan Africa. Of those cases, 80% are girls.

Tanzanian boys peek into a clubhouse for girls launched as part of a health education campaign. Photo by Jennifer Muz

She is currently evaluating a safe-sex campaign in Tanzania, where 60% of teen girls are sexually active by age 18. Fewer than 10% of girls ages 15 to 19 use any modern contraception, however. And adolescent girls there experience high rates of violence by their intimate partners.

Shah said policies grounded in research can bring about improvements in the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents during the next decade — which in turn would create better educational and employment opportunities.

“There is a great need to look at some of these subpopulations that aren’t historically targeted by the average intervention or policy being implemented in lower-income countries,” she said. “Part of what’s exciting at Luskin right now is the number of faculty who are doing this type of international work.”

The Global Lab integrates their efforts, puts a spotlight on their findings, builds a network of international stakeholders, and acts as a springboard for advocacy, Shah said.

“There is so much potential in bringing our international findings back to the United States, too, by identifying how our research can inform programs and policy here,” she added.

The initiative will also create opportunities for students of public policy, social welfare and urban planning who are drawn to international development issues, Shah said.

The health of an entire community hinges on the well-being of women and children, the researchers at the Global Lab have established. They have studied teachers in Pakistan, caregivers in rural Colombia, sex workers in Indonesia and young HIV patients in South Africa, among many other populations.

In Shah’s Tanzania research, advocating for girls means also reaching out to boys. The boys come to play soccer and stay to hear about health risks and violence against girls — part of an international program that combines sport with sex education.

Shah’s research team is measuring the relative impact of empowering girls, turning boys into allies and simply providing access to contraceptives. The goal is to identify and invest in the most effective policies — to find some way to curb adolescent pregnancy, the spread of disease and intimate partner violence. The Tanzania project is being conducted in collaboration with the international development organization BRAC.

Shah is also helping design strategies to promote El Salvador’s Ciudad Mujer women’s resource centers.

“These are safe spaces where women can come if they need a lawyer, health services, employment services. But take-up rates for the domestic violence services have been relatively low, and they don’t understand why,” Shah said. “I’m working with the Inter-American Development Bank and the government of El Salvador to do the research and to figure out what is going on.”

This is the kind of practical impact that powers the Global Lab, which is launching this summer with support from UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura.

“We have so many great professors across all departments working internationally,” Shah said. The Global Lab “speaks to some of our newer strengths, bringing it all together to foster research, support faculty, and advocate for better policies through our findings and our relationships abroad.”

Editors Note: A previous version of this story referred to the Global Lab for Research in Action by its former name, International Development and Policy Outreach.

Shah on Health Benefits of Legal Sex Markets

Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah shared her insights and latest research about sex markets and public health on the podcast Probable Causation. In studies conducted in the U.S. and abroad, Shah has found that decriminalization of sex markets has led to a decline in sexually transmitted infections (STIs), rape and drug-related crime. In Indonesia, Shah and her research partners tracked sex workers and their clients in three towns, one of which had suddenly criminalized the trade. In the illegal sex market, STIs rose 60% after public health officials stopped providing free condoms and children of sex workers were more likely to have to work to support their families. Shah acknowledged that decriminalizing sex work is a complicated policy issue due to moral objections to placing a price on sex and the common belief that banning the trade will protect women. But “current empirical evidence points toward decriminalization,” Shah said.


 

Shah on Benefits of Decriminalizing Sex Work

Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah was featured in a Vox “Consider It” episode discussing the issue of sex work in the United States. “For the most part, sex workers are women who are making the choice to do [sex work] as a source of livelihood. We can argue about how good or bad of a source of livelihood this is, but ultimately, sex work is work,” Shah said. “The sex market is often characterized as one of moral repugnance because of moral beliefs that we shouldn’t put a price on sex.” Nevertheless, public policy experts have found numerous benefits associated with the decriminalization of sex work. Shah explained that during the six years that indoor prostitution was decriminalized in Rhode Island, there was a decrease in gonorrhea incidents and reported rape offenses. “Based on current research, decriminalization of sex work is overall better for women,” Shah concluded.


Shah on Decriminalization of Sex Work

Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah stressed the importance of data-backed claims in a GQ article describing the controversial New York movement to decriminalize sex work in order to make workers safer. “Many people see sex work as morally repugnant, so public policy around it is very rarely based on the actual evidence,” explained Shah, whose 2014 research findings supported decriminalization of the sex work industry. According to Shah, “A lot of people make very big assertions about this topic, but most of the time there just isn’t any data to back them up, or the methodological constraints mean they’re not able to make causal claims.” Shah’s research linked decriminalization to reductions in both rape offenses and female gonorrhea cases. Shah concluded, “Except for the growth of the market, everything else that we worry about from a policy perspective — like public health and violence against women — gets better when sex work is decriminalized.”


Shah Publishes on Sanitation Practice Improvement

Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah’s research on improving sanitation practices in Indonesia has been published in the Journal of Development Economics. Shah and two co-authors measured the effects of scaling up both the construction of toilets and the education of communities about the negative health consequences of open defecation. Poor sanitation habits can have dire consequences: Worldwide, an estimated 1.7 million people die each year because of unsafe water, hygiene and sanitation practices, according to the World Bank. The researchers studied Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), a program active in 60 countries, to determine its effectiveness when scaled up over large sections of rural Indonesia. Among their findings:

  • CLTS led to modest increases in toilet construction and decreased community tolerance of open defecation.
  • Roundworm infestations in children declined, but there was no impact on anemia, height or weight.
  • When the program was implemented by local governments instead of agency teams, its effectiveness declined.
  • The poorest households chose not to build toilets, highlighting the potential advantages of offering financing or subsidies through the program.

As Shah’s research illustrates, interventions that work on a small scale face challenges when implemented on a large scale. “Currently, there are very few studies that explicitly examine the scale-up process through the lens of a rigorous quantitative evaluation,” wrote Shah and co-authors Lisa Cameron and Susan Olivia. Their findings are designed to increase the chances of success of these programs by reducing dependence on trial and error.


 

Immersed in the Real World The yearlong Applied Policy Project puts MPP candidates on the front lines to grapple with issues close to home and far afield

By Mary Braswell

It’s a year’s worth of exacting work, whittled down to a 20-minute talk.

And for some, it’s over in a flash.

“We were all talking about it afterward. ‘That was 20 minutes? It felt like five minutes!’ ” Ramandeep Kaur said of her team’s Applied Policy Project presentation, a rite of passage for all Luskin School MPP candidates.

Kaur’s team was one of 13 to stand before a packed lecture hall over three evenings in May. Each succinctly presented a policy issue, reviewed their research, made a case for the wisest course of action — then fielded a barrage of questions from their peers and professors. They also produced polished reports laying out their findings in detail.

In short, they were using skills each will need as they leave UCLA Luskin and put their master’s degrees to work.

“These Applied Policy Projects are extremely beneficial to our MPP students as they are an opportunity to put all of their policy analysis skills to work in a real-world setting,” Public Policy Vice Chair Manisha Shah said.

“In their first year, students learn so many of the tools necessary to do policy analysis, and then in their second year, they get to implement these tools in the APP,” Shah said. “The final product is an important piece of policy analysis on topics ranging from health to housing to the environment to social justice issues … and the list goes on.”

This year’s APP teams conducted rigorous research on issues near and far — from the drinkability of Los Angeles tap water to human rights abuses in Europe.

Some of the teams formed a year in advance, as students with similar interests and complementary skill sets banded together. Knowing they would work on the APP during their entire second year, they chose topics close to their hearts.

“I knew I wanted to do a project I was passionate about, a project that had an advocacy lens on it,” Kaur said.

Teammate Annia Yoshizumi had worked with the UCLA Luskin-based Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) and suggested pursuing a project on housing. Allan Nguyen and Xiaoyue Zheng brought strong data analysis skills to the team, Kaur said.

Their research on the impact of drastic rent increases in unincorporated L.A. County benefited two clients, CNK and the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action.

“For me personally, I did grow up in L.A., and my parents did live in a rent-controlled apartment, and they were able to then save a lot of money and purchase a house,” Kaur said. “But that’s not an opportunity that many people have. So how do you tell that story so that people understand?”

Another team focused on preserving undocumented patients’ access to healthcare in a time of anti-immigrant rhetoric. Two of the team’s members are earning concurrent MPP and M.D. degrees through UCLA’s Prime Program, including Joe Torres, who was undocumented himself until he became a U.S. citizen in 2016.

Working with Venice Family Clinic, which has provided medical care to vulnerable populations in West Los Angeles for nearly 50 years, the team paired data analysis with extensive surveys in English and Spanish. Among the findings: In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, 64 percent reported more fear or anxiety about ICE raids specifically at clinics, and 39 percent felt less safe taking their U.S. citizen children to the doctor.

To maintain the trust of its patients, Venice Family Clinic should step up the security of its patient records and forge partnerships with legal advocates in the community, the team recommended.

This year’s APP clients were a diverse lot, including the Partnership for L.A. Schools, the Clean Power Alliance, the European Implementation Network, an administrative judge for the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission and several local government entities.

One team that shared an interest in international development took on the World Bank as a client. Their focus was assessing financial incentives for hospitals in the Kyrgyz Republic to improve infant and maternal mortality rates.

Key to the project were interviews conducted with agencies on the ground, team member Tanya Honey said.

“That’s the thing I love to do — I love doing outreach,” said Honey, who spent hours on international calls with the World Health Organization, United Nations and USAID. She credits faculty advisor Wes Yin with pushing the team to use these conversations with experts to provide context to their data.

“I think that was extremely valuable to our project,” Honey said, adding, “I’ve never heard so many Russian accents!” With a bachelor’s degree in linguistics, Honey speaks Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, Hindu and English, but “not Russian — yet.”

To prepare for their APP presentation, Honey’s team recruited students from the Luskin School’s third-floor Commons to serve as a mock audience.

“We were definitely a little bit nervous,” she said, but fortunately her team had substantial experience in public speaking. Teammate Parshan Khosravi is an officer and advocate with the Graduate Students Association, and others have taught classes as teacher’s aides or presented papers at symposiums.

Another APP tradition also helped calm nerves: dressing like you mean business. “I actually feel more confident when I dress up,” Honey said.

Following each APP presentation is a question and answer period that can be daunting. While everyone in the audience is supportive of the presenters, many are also experts in their fields and can readily spot holes in data, assumptions and methodology.

Kaur’s team knew that its main policy recommendation — a rent stabilization ordinance — was controversial.

“A lot of economists do not like RSOs, so we knew we were going to be hit with a lot of questions about that,” she said.

But her team was confident in their analysis and ready for any challenge they might face.

“We did a mock presentation in front of both of our clients, and had them ask us really hard questions that they get in the field when they talk about any sort of tenant protection policy,” she said. “So that really prepped us.”

Also important to Kaur’s team was putting a human face on their policy analysis. They included tenants’ voices because “we really wanted to frame it in a way that people understood who this policy was going to impact.”

Faculty advisors for this year’s APP teams were Shah, Yin, Meredith Phillips and John Villasenor. “What’s great about the experience is that, while it is a real-world experience, it is also a guided experience in that each group is assigned to a Public Policy professor who advises them through the entire process,” Shah said.

This year, three APP projects were singled out for special recognition:

  • Highest honors: Reducing Delay to Promote Civil Rights: How Administrative Judges at the EEOC Can Resolve Employment Discrimination Complaints in a Fair Yet Efficient Manner (Delvin Turner, Elizabeth Joun, David Lyons)
  • Honors: Social Determinants of Health Literacy: Optimizing Public Health Outreach and Education Strategies in Long Beach, California (Stephanie Berger, Marisa Conner, Alexander Fung, Taylor Wyatt)
  • Honors: LA TAP (Tap Water Action Plan): Evaluating the Customer Experience of Tap Water in Los Angeles (Virdiana Auger-Velez, Rachel Lacoe, Caleb Rabinowitz, Bei Zhao)

Find more photos from the 2018 Applied Policy Project presentations on Flickr

Applied Policy Project presentations 2018

The Goal: Making Diversity Redundant UCLA Luskin alumni, faculty, students and staff gather for a daylong diversity recruitment fair showcasing programs and commitment to social justice

“You need diversity because it is excellence and its absence is a sign of intellectual weakness and organizational incapacity. So what we do here today and what we do at Luskin makes the country, Los Angeles and the world a better place.”

— UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura

By Stan Paul

Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, was happy to host the second all-school diversity recruitment fair at UCLA. But, in truth, he would like to see it become redundant.

“I am hoping and believing that we are getting very close to the verge of making it redundant in what Luskin does,” said Segura, who has devoted his academic life to studying issues related to the issues highlighted by the fair.

“By your arrival next fall, Luskin will indisputably be the most diverse school of public affairs in the United States,” Segura said to an audience of students who have applied, or are thinking of applying, to one or more of the School’s three professional graduate programs in public policy, social welfare and urban planning.

In addition to UCLA Luskin’s outstanding faculty, Segura cited the School’s wide array of groups, caucuses and organizations — including the D3 Initiative (Diversity, Disparities and Difference) — and new programs, new hires and ongoing searches for new faculty focused on racial inequality, multicultural planning and immigration policy, among other areas of expertise.

The many UCLA Luskin student groups, along with their classmates, alumni, faculty and staff, came together again this year to organize the Dec. 2, 2017, event.

“At some point, the study of class and racial and sexuality differences as an understanding of public policy, social well-being and urban issues is not a niche, it is the discipline,” Segura said. “It’s 70 percent of the population.”

Joining the dean in welcoming fair attendees were faculty leaders in Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning, along with a panel of Luskin alumni representing all three graduate programs.

Making her pitch to candidates for the Master of Social Welfare professor and department chair Laura Abrams focused on recent tax legislation passed by the U.S. Senate.

“What does the tax bill have to do with social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs?” she asked. “Everything,” came a soft voice rising from the audience, stealing a bit of Abrams’ thunder.

“That was on my notes,” quipped Abrams, who explained that the bill would directly attack Social Security, Medicare and “all the public benefits that are the foundation of our social welfare system.”

She then asked who would deal with the costs of economic hardships on the front lines.

“Social workers!” she answered emphatically, adding, “We are going to have to be the ones who pick up the pieces of those who are displaced, who are homeless, who are pushed into the criminal justice system, who don’t have enough to eat and who don’t have housing.

“So,” Abrams added, “we need all of you, not just those entering social welfare, but the planners and the policy makers because you are the future that is going to have to fix what is happening today.”

Manisha Shah, associate professor and vice chair of Public Policy, highlighted the expertise of Luskin faculty in areas such as health policy, education, immigration, inequality, science and technology.

“We have a lot of flexibility in the department based on what your interests are and what you want to do, what type of policy arena you want to work in,” said Shah, who cited the department’s mixture of qualitative and quantitative approaches to evidence-based policymaking and analysis.

Vinit Mukhija, professor chair of Urban Planning, said that diversity and excellence are not trade-offs in outlining the holistic approach his department — which will soon celebrate 50 years at UCLA — takes in making admissions decisions. Urban Planning emphasizes not only grades but also a student’s personal statement, recommendations and the importance of relevant work experience.

Mukhija, who studies informal housing and slums in the global north and south, explained his own interest as a planner in finding ways to improve living conditions in slums, and his goal to “learn about them to change our ideas about cities and about our design ideas, our rules and to have more just cities.”

Also providing information and encouragement were recent graduates of the Luskin School’s programs who participated in a series of discussions with aspiring students.

Panelists were asked what motivated them to apply to Luskin in their chosen disciplines.

“Communities of color are not always exposed to urban planning although we’re often experiencing the negative effects of what actually happens,” said Carolyn Vera MURP ’17, who was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. Vera, who now works at a transportation consulting firm, said that when she moved back to Los Angeles following her undergraduate years, she didn’t recognize the city she grew up in, citing the effects of gentrification. Vera said urban planning is such a diverse field and, “I knew I wanted to stay in L.A. and work with my community.”

It was homelessness that brought Cornell Williams MSW ’12 to UCLA Luskin Social Welfare.

“I was homeless for a year. I had a college degree and I was sleeping in the park,” said Williams, now a psychiatric social worker for Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and clinical director of the Jeffrey Foundation in Los Angeles. “Like a lot of our clients and people we have the passion to serve, I was stuck in that position and I had no knowledge of resources and access.”

Williams said the experience forced him to ask tough questions about himself and his future. “I came to one of these events and had an interest in all three programs,” but he said that Gerry Laviña, director of field education and associate director of D3, “was a big part of helping me conjure or stir the gifts inside of me to choose social welfare.”

Williams said UCLA Luskin’s Social Welfare gave him the flexibility to work in “every environment you can think of, and I’ve worked in a good number of them myself.”

The day’s events also included breakout sessions led by a number of the School’s sponsoring and organizing student groups: D3, Luskin Leadership Development, Social Welfare Diversity Caucus, Policy Professionals for Diversity & Equity, and Planners of Color for Social Equity.

Attending the event was recent UCLA graduate Vanessa Rodriguez, who said she hopes to enroll in the MSW program next fall. Rodriguez, who grew up in Boyle Heights and has worked with children with autism, said she has always had a passion for helping people. She said her reason for pursuing an MSW degree would be to work with women and victims of domestic abuse.

Among the staff and student volunteers who made the day a success was second-year MSW candidate Marisol Granillo Arce, who said she had attended a number of Luskin diversity related fairs before applying. Granillo Arce, who now also works as a graduate researcher for the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, said it is exciting to meet future agents of change and tell them: “You’ve got what it takes to be a social worker, urban planner, and public policymaker.”

Granillo Arce added: “I think that individuals thinking of applying get the unique opportunity to know the staff, professors and students in the different departments. It is truly inspirational. You end up leaving the fair more confident and inspired.”

Giving Microeconomics a Human Face Public Policy professor Manisha Shah’s research bridges a worldwide gap between health, economics and education

By Stan Paul

At age 16, Manisha Shah went to the Andes Mountains of Ecuador — her first chance to dig into “real development work.” The task after a year of fundraising and training? Building latrines in rural communities. Soon after arrival, however, she realized that everyone there “already knew how” to build latrines.

What they actually needed was financing and supplies. “That is what we helped facilitate — paying for and transporting supplies to this faraway town in the middle of the mountains.”

The experience in Ecuador was transformative for Shah, now an associate professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin. It enhanced a developing global view nurtured as a child during family visits to see her grandparents in India, where she saw “poverty all around her.”

Her youthful travels helped put Shah on the path to her career in academia and research around the world — from Mexico to India, Tanzania to Indonesia — and eventually to the Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“Never in a million years would I have predicted that I would be a tenured professor at UCLA,” Shah said. “I feel so lucky to be doing what I love at one of the best universities in the world.”

Getting There

Today, Shah focuses her teaching and research on the intersection of applied microeconomics, health and development. She is supported by organizations that include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the World Bank.

An example of her work is a recent study, “Investing in Human Capital Production: Evidence from India,” that fills a substantial gap in development literature related to whether early-life investments encourage more educational investments later on, whether low-skill wages in rural India increase school dropouts, and whether rural schools produce gains in consumption later in life. The results have widespread implications for family and individual well-being, economic growth and national competitiveness for the country of over a billion people.

Her research affiliations and teaching might suggest otherwise, but Shah’s path was not exactly a straight one. “I don’t think I had a direct route. In fact, it was very indirect,” said Shah, who sought work abroad after earning undergraduate degrees in economics and development
at Berkeley.

“I quickly learned how difficult it is to find a job that will actually pay you to do international work,” she said.

She wound up in a one-year program at the London School of Economics where her master’s thesis in development economics examined HIV/AIDS issues in India and how NGOs were working to fill gaps in countries that were slow to react to potential epidemics.

“This was 1996-97. Getting HIV in a developing country was a death sentence, and so many countries were doing little to publicly acknowledge they even had an HIV problem,” Shah said.

Next was Mexico, and work at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. Shah is fluent in Spanish, and at the time thought she was “done with school and would never come back,” having achieved her goal of working in international development. “I loved the job.”

But there was a catch.

“I knew I wanted to keep doing this type of work, but I also started to realize that the people calling the shots, raising the money, directing things, all had Ph.D.s,” Shah said. So she spent a year doing the math — literally, taking the calculus, statistics and real analysis coursework she needed for a doctoral program at UC Berkeley. “There was almost no literature in economics on HIV/AIDS,” Shah said of her ongoing interest in the intersection of HIV and economics. “I learned that most interventions in development related to HIV/AIDS often targeted sex workers, as they tend to have higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS than the general adult population in most developing countries.”

Shah’s eyes were opened when she learned how many women in developing countries are employed in the sex sector. She saw the implications for public health and noted a lack of serious empirical study, which “began an important area of research for me.”

She recently co-edited the “Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Prostitution,” in which more than 40 researchers from around the world compiled and interpreted valuable economic data and research that may help lawmakers and government officials set policy guidelines concerning prostitution worldwide.

“A number of factors, including the proliferation of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, especially in developing nations, have created the need to look at prostitution through an economic lens,” she said.

And yes, like the teenager who traveled to Ecuador decades ago, Shah is still interested in sanitation, a core issue at the intersection of human health and economics
in developing countries.

Research and Public Policy

Shah refers to herself as an applied microeconomist interested in development economics, health and education. “Most of my research fits into those bins,” Shah said.

She has written papers on the long-term impacts of positive rainfall shocks as well as drought in India on human capital outcomes of young children and adolescents, and risk-taking behaviors in the wake of natural disasters, as well as the effects of cash transfer programs on criminal behavior in Indonesia. Behind each are human stories of how policies affect large populations.

Shah’s research on HIV and the sex industry has wide-ranging implications for the health and well-being of not only adults but also vulnerable young people caught up in prostitution around the world.

“These days most of my work is either related to children or adolescents,” Shah said. “I often joke that my switch to research about children perfectly coincides with my becoming a mother. I remember researching questions about child development when I was pregnant and being surprised about how little we know about many important issues related to child cognitive/health and development.”

Shah is the principal investigator of a randomized controlled trial in Tanzania attempting to understand how to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes for teenage girls. “I am really excited about this work,” said Shah, who was also recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant to better understand education outcomes for children in rural India.

After teaching stints at the University of Melbourne, Princeton University and UC Irvine, she joined the Luskin faculty in 2013. Today, she teaches microeconomics, development economics and serves as a faculty adviser for the Applied Policy Project (APP), a challenging yearlong requirement for master of public policy students at Luskin.

“Ironically, I learned in grad school that I actually enjoy teaching, and I was sort of good at it,” she said of her classroom duties. Her research topics are heavy, which could lead to frustration about things that should be happening but don’t. “But spend some time with our students and it will put you in a good mood,” she said.

“Our students make me optimistic, and that optimism can be infectious. I love how our students care so deeply about issues that matter to them.”