Davis, Shores named 2023 Gerard J. Mangone Young Scholars
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and Evan Krape | Photo illustration by Jeffrey C. Chase January 24, 2024
Young, promising scholars recognized for their outstanding research
Pursuing research that solves real-world problems with practical solutions is what drives Kenneth Shores and Kyle Davis, who have been honored with the University of Delaware’s Gerard J. Mangone Young Scholars Award for 2023.
The award is named for the late pioneering legal scholar who spent almost 40 years teaching and advising UD students. So, it is appropriate that the value of mentorship — to them and to their students — is also critical to both Shores, an assistant professor in the School of Education, and Davis, an assistant professor of geography and spatial sciences.
“Seeing students blossom into their own as researchers and in their investigative work is one of the highlights of being a faculty member,” Davis said.
While their research areas are different, both faculty members share a commitment to scholarship that improves the lives of people around the world now and in the future.
Shores began his career as an elementary and middle school teacher in New Mexico before relocating to teach in Ecuador. Though making an impact in the classroom day to day, he wanted to have a greater impact by studying and improving education policy, so he earned a doctoral degree in education policy at Stanford University.
“I realized after working in my classroom, I still had questions about education policy, implementation and instruction,” he said.
It is often difficult for researchers to know when their research affects policy. Shores shares his research on K-12 education policy with policymakers by publishing with Brookings, a policy think-tank forum with broad readership. He hopes his research is used when local and federal policymakers allocate critical resources to communities that need them the most.
“The policy and research pipelines are pretty far apart. I try to do research that has a public face to get policymakers to think about how their policies can be changed and shaped to increase equitable access to programs,” Shores said. “I do think there will be local policy changes as a result of our work.”
Shores has also worked closely with Delaware education policymakers, which has been a breath of fresh air because the state’s legislators and community stakeholders have been accessible and receptive to his research.
“We were trying to build out some work looking at how students with disabilities are receiving vocational rehabilitation, how they are entering into the workforce and what type of jobs they are obtaining,” Shores said. “That kind of ecosystem where you can supercharge research with a practitioner and policymaker at the same time is an exciting new thing that I would not have been able to experience anywhere else.”
Though impactful in the education system, Shores’ research is seeping into other spheres of influence. For example, he recently collaborated on research to evaluate the Ramsey County, Minnesota, revision to its policing strategy to reduce arrests of Black and Indigenous residents.
“Dr. Shores has made significant contributions to the academic community and beyond through his research, community engagement, and mentorship,” wrote Laura Desimone, interim director of the School of Education, in her letter recommending Shores for the Mangone Award.
Shores attributes much of his ability to thrive as a researcher to being able to collaborate with others as he seeks new issues, and thus policies, to inform.
“My work has allowed me to discover that I have the desire to collaborate,” he said. “I like to have a co-author, and I enjoy the opportunity to specialize in different ways. Whether I’m the technical person or not in the work that I’m doing, it’s been fun to find my comparative advantage as well as highlighting the strengths of others when conducting research.”
For Davis, the University of Delaware has provided unique opportunities that have shaped his entire career.
After earning his honors bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from UD in 2010, Davis interned for a year in Nigeria at the University of Ibadan’s Center for Sustainable Development. This opportunity was made possible by one of his UD mentors, the late Dr. Babatunde A. Ogunnaike, former William L. Friend Chair of Chemical Engineering and former dean of the College of Engineering.
Davis’ time in Nigeria became a formative experience. Personally, it broadened his worldview, and professionally, it allowed him to gain a better understanding of sustainable development. Davis’ time in Nigeria influenced his doctoral studies at the University of Virginia, where he began to find the correlation between the ongoing issue of water scarcity and the need to feed people.
“It led me to become interested in sustainable development, especially in a Global South context. It helped me further appreciate the tension between improving human wellbeing and protecting the environment at the same time. That tension is what my research attempts to resolve,” Davis said. “The sustainability work that I conduct, it’s not solely economically or environmentally focused. I’m interested in the complex ways that they are interconnected.”
Davis said UD has provided him with intangible resources — most notably, the collaborative and inspiring faculty members who support and mentor him, as well as the Data Science Institute — that continually improved his teaching style and research. The support he’s received from early in his career has encouraged him to be innovative with how he teaches and engages with students.
Davis’ research has positively shaped government policies, internationally and domestically.
“My research, and the research of many other people, has influenced the Indian government to incorporate some of its traditional grains into some of the public food security programs that exist in their country,” Davis said. “Some of the other work is focusing on the irrigation needs of crops in the western parts of the United States, specifically to identify solutions for the Colorado River basin. We’re trying to use water more sustainably but still protect the farmer’s income to ensure that they are still profitable.”
In his letter recommending Davis for the Mangone Award, Wei-Jun Cai, an associate dean for research and the Mary A.S. Lighthipe Chair of Earth, Ocean and Environment, praised Davis for his willingness to research topics that affect society and his unconventional research methodology.
Davis is “a rising star who has established an international reputation in data science applied to the food-water-human nexus in the context of global environmental change,” wrote Cai. “He is producing research that is making a difference to both his field and to society.”
About Gerard J. Mangone
The Mangone Young Scholars Award is named in honor of the late Gerard J. Mangone, a pioneering international legal scholar who joined the UD faculty in 1972 and spent nearly the next 40 years teaching and advising scores of UD students. He also served numerous governmental and non-profit organizations, consulting for the White House, the State Department, the United Nations, Japan, the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was the first senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., and served as a visiting professor and lecturer around the world. Mangone’s contributions were instrumental to the success of UD's marine policy program. He founded the Center for the Study of Marine Policy, the first research center at an American university to study the legal, political and economic issues facing the ocean and coast. The center was the forerunner of the Gerard J. Mangone Climate Change Science and Policy Hub. He received UD’s highest faculty honor — the Francis Alison Award — in 1983 and was an active member of the Francis Alison Society until his death in July 2011.