Faculty Spotlight

February Faculty Spotlight with Assistant Professor, Cristina Balboa

February 16 Faculty Spotlight

With a background that blends research-heavy projects and global nonprofit work, Assistant Professor, Cristina Balboa stays true to the School of Public Affairs' professor-practitioner approach with a positive outcome for her students. She tells us about her method of creating assignments, the importance of transnational actors and the context through which they tell their story, and more.

In what ways have you brought your field experience-heavy approach to Baruch College's School of Public Affairs?
I love that students bring global perspectives and experience to the classroom. I aim to honor the diversity and practical experience in the classes I teach by crafting assignments that allow students to follow their passion and curiosity through the practical application of skills and concepts. For instance, in my undergraduate course Qualitative Studies of Communities (PAF3015), each student chooses a community to study for the entire semester. Over the course of 15 weeks, they explore different ways to learn about those communities, not just reading published research, but also performing participant observation, interviewing community members, critically watching documentaries, and going to a museum exhibit that focuses on some aspect of that community. Previous students have studied Muslim students at CUNY, "freegans", single mothers, small business owners in Harlem, and a whole host of other fascinating communities. All these experiences help students understand the process of research to help them both to critically read others' research and to give them practical tools. Whether they go work for a nonprofit, a government agency, or a business, they will be able to use these tools to increase their understanding of stakeholders, constituents, or potential markets. It's rewarding to hear from students about how they use these approaches in their work, years after the course!

What is GITA? How do you stay involved?
GITA stands for Global Issues and Transnational Actors. It's a group within ARNOVA (the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action) – a group that connects practitioners, academics, and "pracademics" on issues of research and practice. A few years back, my colleague Paloma Raggo (at Carleton University) and I decided to organize a common interest group to focus on how the transnational nature of policy issues challenges us to rethink the methods, range of actors, and the scope of issues we use to study nongovernmental organizations.

We organized a panel last month at the annual ARNOVA conference to highlight the issues we think are most important to consider for our community and my talk focused on how context matters. Transnational actors by definition operate in multiple contexts: global and national policy arenas, and a multitude of local villages, cities, and communities. Each of these contexts have different resources, problem definitions, norms, and capacities that both make our jobs as researchers difficult but also much more interesting – and hopefully helpful to those who live there. One priority I have for this group is promoting theory that is generated from developing country contexts and developing country scholars.

The GITA listserv is an easy way to stay involved and a great resource for members. In the past year I've seen posts on micro-financing, global statistics on nonprofits, and accountability of humanitarian efforts in Haiti, to list a few. It's great to belong to such a vibrant and friendly community of scholars and practitioners.

What is top on your research agenda for the next few years?
I am currently finishing book manuscript that focuses on these issues of context, accountability, and effectiveness for nongovernmental organizations, as well as how these concepts interact to create opportunities or pitfalls for NGOs. The case studies for the book come from organizations working in Southeast Asia and the Pacific working on coastal and coral reef issues, but I think the lessons learned will be applicable to a broad swath of transnational NGOs. It's been exciting work seeing this project develop and I'm eager to get my ideas out there. Once that is done, the next big project is developing a theory of first-mover advantage/disadvantage for NGOs looking to move into new geographic locales or new issue areas. I feel very fortunate that I really enjoy both the research and teaching aspects of my job.