An Interview with Rikesh Nana

Q: What made you want to become a researcher?

A: I’m really passionate about equal access to quality education. We know that educational attainment is linked to lower unemployment, higher wages, and even health outcomes. Unfortunately, many barriers prevent student subgroups, such as minority students, rural students, and students with disabilities, from accessing quality education programs. I wanted to assist in resolving those inequities. I became a researcher because I wanted to use objective, science-based methods to do so.

Q: Through your work, what is the most interesting/unexpected/important finding you have discovered?

A: As part of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, CNA Education was studying a program aimed to increase access to rigorous, college-level courses in rural northeast Tennessee. Unfortunately, many rural schools typically serve few students and thus lack the teaching capacity to offer rigorous courses in addition to regular courses.

I was excited to report the growth of dual enrollment partnerships between the rural schools in the study and local community colleges. These partnerships used innovative strategies, such as having an instructor from the college teach dual enrollment courses at the high school and simply providing dual enrollment courses online, to address problems such as high commute times between remotely located high schools and community colleges.

The number of individual dual enrollment courses students took more than doubled over the period of the study. The i3 program as a whole resulted in positive impacts on composite ACT scores, AP participation, AP exam performance, and college persistence for students that participated in the study, although it’s unknown exactly how much the increased dual enrollment participation contributed to those outcomes.

Q: What is your favorite part of research?

A: I especially enjoy the part of my job that involves speaking to teachers, principals, school board members, and other education practitioners and policymakers. It’s always interesting to see the education world from their eyes and also what unique problems they are facing or new solutions they are developing for these problems. Using the i3 project again as an example, guidance counselors from rural schools found that many of their students were fearful of the academic rigor that came along with college courses. To help alleviate this fear, faculty and staff from one of the schools studied brought back college students from the high school who had previously taken dual enrollment courses to discuss how beneficial the courses had been in terms of preparing for them academically.

Q: If you were not a researcher, what would you do for a living?

A: Find a radioactive spider to get bitten by! All jokes aside, I might seek a career somewhere in the public health sector, as those jobs are set to be in demand in the next few years and public health inequities are important to address as well.

Did you like this article? Sign up and we’ll send you more articles like this in our monthly newsletter.