New research effort aims to improve outcomes for disadvantaged students

Motivating eighth-graders from a disadvantaged neighborhood to build the skills needed for success is the focus of a new pilot program starting this month as part of the Successful Pathways from School to Work initiative. This study is just one of several research projects funded last year by the initiative. Requests for proposals for 2015 funding are being accepted through the end of April.


The Successful Pathways from School to Work initiative was created with a $17 million gift from the estate of Hymen T. Milgrom, AB’35. The Hymen Milgrom Supporting Organization distributes the funding for the research projects. It is a 10-year effort to generate knowledge about how to build the skills necessary for disadvantaged students to succeed in the modern labor market.

“We are in the pilot stages of developing a two-year, in-school program for disadvantaged seventh- through ninth-grade students that builds the necessary motivation to succeed through a focus on non-cognitive skills,” said Anya Samek, a visiting assistant professor in economics. The principal investigator on the research project is John List, professor of economics. The two professors are working with Fred Chaney, the leadership training coordinator for school district 170 in Chicago Heights, where the pilot program is taking place. The study is funded by a $750,000 grant from the Successful Pathways initiative, the largest faculty award given through the competitive process.

Successful Pathways is now accepting proposals for 2015 grants from graduate students only. Brief letters of interest are due April 30. The grants will fund two-year projects at an estimated level of support of $25,000 per year. More information about the 2015 RFPs can be found on the Successful Pathways website. A select few of the applicants will be invited to submit a full proposal later this summer, and grant awards will be announced in the fall.

The Hymen Milgrom Supporting Organization is interested in a range of study types, but all with the focus of helping children, especially those from disadvantaged areas, be better prepared for successful pathways to careers, whether it’s college, on-the-job training or other post-secondary vocational training options.

In addition to the research study headed by List, Successful Pathways also provided funding in 2014 to three projects headed by UChicago doctoral students.

  • Rebecca Hinze-Pifer from the Harris School of Public Policy received a $29,000 grant to evaluate the impact of early contact with the juvenile justice system for adolescents. She is studying the behavioral and academic outcomes of adolescents processed through the Cook Country peer jury diversion program.
  • Andres Hojman is analyzing the long-term effects of early childhood interventions with his $50,000 grant. Hojman, an economics graduate student, is specifically looking at the fadeout phenomenon, which happens when the initial positive effects of the early interventions aimed at improving children’s intelligence diminish or disappear after they have left the program.
  • Math performance by low-income students being taught by teachers with math anxiety is the focus of research by Marjorie Schaeffer, who also received a $50,000 grant. Schaeffer’s research will attempt to understand the effects of the teachers’ math attitudes to see if they lead to lower math learning and less positive math attitudes among low-income children. Schaeffer is a doctoral student in psychology.