ETB Blogs

ACE Evaluation Network Member Highlight: Karen Jackson

With 96 Evaluators and growing in the Network, we are highlighting an ACE Evaluation Network Member each month to share their experiences and current projects with the ETB® community.

Advancing Culturally-responsive and Equitable (ACE) Evaluation Network Member Karen T. Jackson, PhD is an assistant professor in the leadership studies and adult education department at North Carolina A&T State University where she teaches research design, quantitative and qualitative research methods, ethics, and policy courses. Her work is grounded in systems and organization theory, policy studies, understanding of community engagement, equity, and social justice. As an evaluator and researcher, she works with organizations to understand how to transform and overcome their challenges and build upon their strengths. Karen has facilitated evaluations, organizational redesign, and community engagement efforts in settings like a diversity and inclusion initiative at Mitchell Community College — an alternate-route teacher certification program implementation at Columbia College. She also collaborated with the Greensboro Police Department to coordinate community engagement of the Department of Justice’s Project Safe Neighborhood program, and she was a lead researcher on the study of implicit bias in traffic stops and searches for GPD. Dr. Jackson led a team that evaluated a feedback loop process implemented by Habitat for Humanity’s Neighborhood Revitalization unit. She also worked with a nonprofit organization to design a study that examines transfer practices and experiences at four Southern community colleges. Her work with a poverty consortium and evaluation of capital access challenges for a Black food entrepreneurs program for a foundation has resulted in organizational shifts in their thinking about poverty and wealth-building in communities with diverse socio-economic levels.

What first attracted you to the ACE Evaluation Network?

In 2015 when I became a part of the ACE Evaluation Network, I thought that the database was a great strategy to get more Black and Brown evaluators in front of potential clients looking for evaluators, especially those clients whose programming is influencing the lives of Black and Brown people. I also thought the exposure would assist in building my consulting business Katalyst Innovative Consulting Services. I had experience sub-contracting and apprenticing with other evaluators and had taken evaluation and research methodology courses in my doctoral program, but I had not had an opportunity to use this expertise as lead contractor on an evaluation. Also, at that time I had been an American Evaluation Association member for a few years and witnessed the networking taking place in that space, but noted that the real connections I made that led to business opportunities were few. As a Black woman with a doctorate and a desire to use my expertise to advance equity and justice, I needed the kind of network ACE has been able to establish. I also believe that the Network’s approach is aligned with my core values: relationship building, community building, and trust.  

What do you value most about the ACE Evaluation Network?

I find it difficult to pick just one valuable aspect of the ACE Evaluation Network because I have found value in many of the opportunities offered. I’ve attended several Coffee Breaks that led to building relationships and contracting with clients. I appreciate the opportunity to participate as a reviewer of applications for new Members in November 2020. Opportunities to share ideas and get feedback from other network members has been invaluable. For example, at the ETB learning table I led entitled: Evaluating the Impact of Poverty and Race in February 2021 I learned from the participants by listening to their points of view and questions as we discussed the implications of policy on poverty and race. Similarly in the open mic entitled Using CREE in the Evaluation of Federal Programs, Specifically NSF Broadening Participation in STEM that I led in July 2022, I felt comfortable enough in the space to share sensitive situations related to the ways different groups see and use their power in the world.

What’s a current project you are working on?

Projects I work on lie at the intersections of community engagement, leadership, and STEM in a social justice context. Here I share some details from three current projects and one that I am wrapping up. While the roles I serve on these projects include evaluator, researcher, and volunteer; at the center of my thinking as I engage with each team are how the research and/or evaluation is positioned to shift power dynamics and historical paradigms and how CREE approaches can be applied.

I am a co-principal investigator on a project entitled: Strategic Application of Science Capital to Increase African American Students’ Motivation, Retention and Persistence in STEM at an HBCU funded by National Science Foundation’s HBCU-UP program. I work closely with our external evaluation team to ensure we are meeting stated goals, hitting our milestones, and checking that engagement is mutually beneficial. We hope the findings from this work, application of asset-based advising approaches designed by biology faculty, and the survey designed from the point of view of Black biology majors will contribute to implementation of researched strategies that lead to more Black students engaging in research after graduation.

I also just completed an article for New Directions in Student Leadership: Leadership Education for Graduate and Professional School Students: Moving from Today to Tomorrow, entitled Enacting a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Emphasis in Graduate and Professional Leadership, which will be available later this fall through the International Leadership Association. In this article we review connections between traditional leadership research designs and how critical race or counter narratives are used to respond to the question, “How can the field of leadership education advance itself such that leadership educators are asking new questions and integrating contemporary leadership approaches with counter narratives — all while integrating diverse perspectives into our leadership education conversation so the complexity we now understand to be true can be revealed?”

As a volunteer with a group in Greensboro, North Carolina, called Community Connectors, I work to help us achieve our goal to improve the lives of Greensboro residents by transforming our community one neighborhood at a time. Currently, the core team is working together to assess the needs and wants specific to two of Greensboro’s communities in ZIP codes with the highest crime rates. We hope that by connecting residents to existing resources that address food insecurity; job shortages; mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing of residents; and rental and mortgage assistance and upkeep on existing homes in these communities that this will result in neighborhoods with healthier environments and less crime. We’ve submitted a proposal for funding from the Department of Justice to build capacity for this work.

Lastly, I am excited to be the external evaluator on an equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) initiative that the North Carolina Division of Health Benefits is walking through over a two-year period. The initiative includes EDI training that details how our brains work, how biases take root and grow, microaggressions, trauma, resilience, and the role of culture in EDI work. As a part of this initiative courageous conversations and deep reflection are practiced in safe spaces across all levels of the organization, which is made up of more than 500 employees.

To learn more about Karen, connect with her on LinkedIn.