Theodore Svoronos is joining the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) faculty this fall as a lecturer in public policy. We spoke with him recently to learn more about his research, his teaching and the path he has taken to come to HKS.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background. What is the most interesting thing about you?
I grew up in Queens, New York and wanted to be a jazz guitarist, and I somehow ended up teaching statistical methods and program evaluation. Go figure. I’ve spent most of my professional life working on issues related to global health. I spent a year in Tanzania developing a mobile phone-based decision support tool for community health workers, and eventually founded an organization called Spark MicroGrants, focused on funding community-based solutions to social problems.
Q: How has your career brought you to HKS?
I came to Harvard to pursue a PhD in the Harvard Department of Health Policy, building off my previous work in global health. In the process, I fell in love with teaching quantitative methods to students who are not particularly interested in quantitative methods. There’s something about the pressure to make sure that course materials are practically relevant and never taught for their own sake that is very appealing to me. So, when it came time to decide on my career after graduate school, I decided to pursue positions that focused entirely on teaching and learning. Being a lecturer at HKS was a perfect fit.
Q: What are your primary areas of research?
A: My research focuses largely on program evaluation, and the extent to which study designs that do not adhere to the gold standard of randomized controlled trials can approximate their results. Understanding when a given design is “good enough” for a given intervention or context can be especially useful to practitioners and policymakers, and my hope is that this research can bring more clarity to when and where certain designs can be effectively used.
In addition to this research, I’m increasingly interested in studying questions of pedagogy and teaching effectiveness. For example, I have developed a number of digital teaching materials and am interested to learn if these sorts of materials can improve learning outcomes relative to in-class lectures. I’m hoping to pursue these questions alongside other faculty and students at HKS in the coming year.
Q: What courses will you be teaching at HKS?
A: I’ll be teaching API-201 (Quantitative Analysis and Empirical Methods) for the MPP 1 cohort, and API-210 (Advanced Quantitative Methods II) for the MPA/ID 1 cohort. In addition, I’ll be collaborating with faculty to develop digital modules to supplement their courses in the MPP program.
Q: What are your favorite interests/hobbies?
A: Besides being a jazz guitarist and music enthusiast more generally, I have an (excessive) interest in integrating technology into my day to day activities. You’ll probably see me messing with my iPad, smartwatch, or some other gadget on most days.