Notre Dame’s Lab for Economic Opportunities Endowed with $15 Million Gift from the Wilson Sheehan Foundation

Author: Dennis Brown

William Evans, left, and James Sullivan William Evans, left, and James Sullivan

The Wilson Sheehan Foundation has made a $15 million gift to the University of Notre Dame to endow the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO), a recent University initiative that seeks to reduce poverty in the United States.

“We are immensely grateful to the Wilson Sheehan Foundation for a gift that supports the missions of both the foundation and Notre Dame: to be a force for good in the world,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., the University’s president. “By endowing the work of LEO researchers, the foundation is supporting and challenging them to find enduring solutions to poverty in America.”

John T. McGreevy, I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, added: “This gift will allow us to establish LEO as a nationwide leader in poverty research. LEO exemplifies the University’s commitment to use research and scholarship to make real changes in the lives of the disadvantaged by improving the effectiveness of the programs that serve them.”

Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities

LEO researchers create lasting partnerships with forward-looking service providers to conduct scientific evaluations that identify which programs are most effective at reducing poverty. The work is conducted by scholars from Notre Dame and other universities who have expertise in designing and evaluating the impact of domestic anti-poverty programs. LEO is partnering with Catholic Charities USA, collaborating with other service providers, and sharing results with policymakers at all levels of government.

Among the current areas of focus are early childhood development, community college persistence, job readiness, juvenile justice diversion, and homelessness prevention. As the lab grows, the scope of the projects and their corresponding policy focus areas will expand as well.

LEO is led by William Evans, Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Economics at Notre Dame, who specializes in health economics and the economics of education, and James Sullivan, Rev. Thomas J. McDonagh, C.S.C., Associate Professor of Economics, who studies poverty measurement and inequality and the economic impact of welfare and tax policy.

“With this gift, LEO will become a focal point of research activity within the department and play a key role in our department’s growth,” Evans said. “Its connection to Notre Dame’s mission and unique research opportunities will help us attract world-class scholars to the department.”

Sullivan added: “Through rigorous, scientific research, LEO identifies the innovative, effective, and scalable programs that help move people out of poverty. We disseminate our findings to policymakers to encourage evidence-based decisions, and to agencies so they can improve the design of their programs to ensure they have the greatest impact.

“A unique feature of LEO is its partnership with Catholic Charities USA, the largest private provider of services to the poor in the country. Through this network we can ensure that effective programs can be scaled up to have broad, national impact.”

Wilson Sheehan Foundation

The Wilson Sheehan Foundation was created in 2012 to professionally steer family resources toward effective means of helping the poor, both domestically and internationally.

Chris Wilson, a trustee of the foundation, said: “LEO aligns very well with our mission, focusing on root causes and rigorously evaluating the effectiveness of programs. The entire philanthropic community will benefit from LEO’s research, and as a result, the world’s poor will be served by more effective services. We have great confidence in Notre Dame’s ability to become a leader in this area.”

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