Katie Yewell (3) - CopyThank you for visiting my website!  I have a Ph.D. in Economics from Vanderbilt University. My fields of specialization are health economics, industrial organization, and applied microeconomics. My current research is focused on analyzing the effects of public policies affecting children’s outcomes and household decision-making.  My other recent research interest is analyzing consolidation and location decisions in the hospital industry, and the effects of such decisions on the quality of health care.

In the summer of 2021, I joined the University of Louisville as an Assistant Professor in the Health Management and Systems Sciences Department, which is part of the School of Public Health and Information Sciences.

In addition to research, I am also passionate about teaching.  For the 2020-2021 academic year, I was a visiting Assistant Professor of Economics at Washington & Lee University, teaching Principles of Economics and Health Economics.  In 2019-2020 I was a visiting instructor of economics at the University of Memphis and taught introduction to microeconomics, introduction to macroeconomics, and intermediate microeconomics.  I also served as a teaching assistant for many courses at Vanderbilt and was the primary instructor for Intermediate Microeconomics in the Summer of 2015 and for Labor Economics in the Fall of 2018.  I completed the Certificate in College Teaching program through the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching in 2015, and also received the Rendigs Fels Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Economics Department that year.

I am originally from Lexington, Kentucky.  Prior to beginning my graduate studies, I completed a bachelors degree in Economics and Mathematics with a minor in Art History from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

In my “free time”, I enjoy throwing pottery, watching movies, playing soccer, traveling, sampling wine, watching UK basketball, and laughing at corny jokes.  I also love modern art and impressionist paintings.

Thank you again for visiting my site!

For more information, check out my Curriculum Vitae.

Contact: katherine.yewell[at]

[updated August 2021]


Universal access to free meals at schools can lead to lower grocery bills and healthier food purchases

Families with access to the Community Eligibility Provision save money, buy healthier foods, and experience improved food security.

When schools make free meals more accessible, families can save money on groceries. Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Michelle Marcus, Vanderbilt University and Katherine G. Yewell, University of Louisville

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The big idea

Families with children can save US$11 to $39 per month, or $132 to $468 per year, on groceries through the Community Eligibility Provision – a federal program through which high-poverty schools or districts provide free breakfast and lunch to all students regardless of family income. This is according to a new study that uses data on purchases made by 40,000 to 60,000 U.S. households annually to examine how the program benefits families.

Research has estimated that eating a healthy diet costs about $1.50 more per day than eating a less healthy diet. For that reason, when families save money by spending less on groceries, the savings may result in changes to the quality of their households’ diet. In fact, when households save money from this program, they are able to reallocate their spending toward purchasing healthier food.

We find that low-income households purchase groceries that are 3% healthier after the program becomes available. This is based on changes in their diet score, a scale we constructed with values that range from negative one to positive one, with higher values indicating healthier food purchases according to doctor recommendations.

Finally, we show that overall household food insecurity – where households have limited or uncertain access to adequate food – declines by almost 5% after the program becomes available. This is despite the fact that students from low-income families already qualified for free school meals before the program.

Our findings suggest that expanding safety net programs and reducing barriers to access can help families, including families that were not participating in the program even though they were eligible.

Why it matters

Historically, many students from low-income households have not participated in free school meals despite being eligible. This may be due to stigma and discrimination or due to the difficulty of applying for the program.

Schools or districts with at least 40% low-income students can participate in the Community Eligibility Provision, which makes free meals accessible to everyone. In participating schools, students from low-income households no longer need to apply for the program and are less likely to feel singled out. This increases the number of students who eat free school meals, and schools that participate serve more meals than before the universal free school meal program.

Universal meals can also help improve students’ health, reduce absenteeism and increase earnings later in life.

What still isn’t known

Our results provide evidence on just one aspect of overall dietary quality, which is food purchased at grocery stores. We lack information on the nutritional quality of school meals, which can vary by school and over time as schools meet new standards from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

We also do not know how much each household spends on eating food outside the home at sit-down or fast-food restaurants or the dietary quality of these meals. We are also unable to say which family members consume specific grocery purchases, so each family member’s diet may be different.

Finally, we are not able to say for certain that the food purchased is actually consumed by household members instead of going to waste.

What’s next

Our study reveals that access to universal free school meals can significantly improve household budgets and food security, which may reduce stress, depression and other related adverse outcomes that disproportionately affect low-income households.

Ongoing work suggests teenagers with access to the universal free school meal program may experience improvements in overall health, sleep and mental health. Future research could explore additional benefits of these improved outcomes in more depth.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter.]

Michelle Marcus, Assistant Professor of Economics, Vanderbilt University and Katherine G. Yewell, Assistant Professor, University of Louisville

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Using Concept Maps in Teaching

Concept maps are a great way for students to organize thoughts, draw connections between topics, and understand what concepts are most central to the  topic at hand.  They also present an opportunity to get students actively engaged in their own learning during class.  Recently I had two opportunities to use concept maps in class settings and both times I was very pleased with the discussion and final product that we created as a group.

The first concept map above illustrates characteristics of good teaching, with repeated words emphasizing the traits that were most commonly appreciated.  To create this, I asked graduate students in TA Orientation to think of their favorite teacher from any point in their academic career and share who it was and why they chose them with a peer.  After thinking through their experiences and sharing stories, they were each given three notecards on which to write a word that described this teacher.  One-by-one, they came up to the front and taped the word to the board, meanwhile explaining why they had chosen that word and how it related to their experience with their favorite teacher.  As more people came up, themes began to emerge among the traits, and we discussed how they were connected.  The group of graduate students was from the Economics and Mathematics departments, so it was not surprising that the most popular choice of words described organized teachers since we tend to have analytical minds.  At the end of the day, the new TAs made another concept map as individuals to represent who they wanted to be as a TA, which they got to take with them as a reminder.


The next concept map I planned was on the first day of class in my undergraduate Labor Economics course.  In groups of 2-4 students, I asked them to think about major concepts, players, and issues in the economics of labor.  They each had notecards to take notes, and I observed excellent discussions among the groups that included students with diverse backgrounds and interests in economics.  After brainstorming, I asked groups to volunteer to come up to the board to share what they had come up with together.  Students shared a concept and why they thought it was important to the labor economy, and drew lines between the words to illustrate how they were connected.  In the end, I used the map they had created to confirm what we would be talking about throughout the rest of the semester.   In a class that can be bogged down by lecturing if you’re not careful, this was a nice way to introduce students to the various topics and to engage them in the course outline.  I took a picture of the board and shared it with the class through our online course management system so they can reference it as we navigate through the rest of the semester together.

The Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D.

Keep Pushing.

by Matt Might

Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge: phdknowledge-001

By the time you finish elementary school, you know a little:


By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more:


With a bachelor’s degree, you gain a specialty:


A master’s degree deepens that specialty:


Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge:


Once you’re at the boundary, you focus:


You push at the boundary for a few years:


Until one day, the boundary gives way:


And, that dent you’ve made is called a Ph.D.:


Of course, the world looks different to you now:


So, don’t forget the bigger picture:


Keep Pushing.  

The Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D. is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 LicenseThis post originally appeared at Matt Might’s Blog and appeared on in this format.  

Reflections on being a Teaching Assistant, from first-time TAs

The TA position offers a unique opportunity to witness a classroom environment from the perspectives of both students and professors. Being a TA is a valuable stepping-stone to developing your own teaching philosophy. In addition to developing and improving communication and organizational skills, it’s an opportunity to watch a professor/mentor, and to assess how your own interactions with students are or are not effective.

I recently sat down with a group of graduate students who were nearing the end of their first semester as a Teaching Assistant (TA) at Vanderbilt. The last time we were all together was in August during Teaching Assistant Orientation (TAO), a day-long workshop facilitated by the Center for Teaching.   At TAO, we discuss various important topics such as TA roles and relationships with professors and students, effective grading and office hours, leading discussions, and creating an inclusive classroom. We also do our best to answer questions about possible troublesome scenarios that could arise and familiarize them with the resources they have at their disposal should they need them.

Now, nearly four months later, I was interested in hearing their thoughts on how their first semester as a TA had gone. Several students expressed the sentiment that being a TA was easier than they originally thought it would be, and that getting along with the students in this new role had gone smoothly (relieving an anxiety they held prior to TAO). A lot of feedback I heard with regards to unexpected struggles involved topics that we try to address in TAO, but which require ongoing efforts to improve. Among these topics, communication problems with professors, balancing time spent on TA duties with their own schoolwork and research, and grading difficulties seemed to be the most common grievances. Some of these issues will iron themselves out with more experience and making slight changes in approach. For other issues, it’s valuable to share stories with other TAs and hear specific strategies that have worked for your peers and that you might adopt. Finally, I think there’s some room for sharing feedback with academic departments as well. The TAs brought up innovative ideas such as creating a database of answer keys written by TAs in previous semesters so as to lessen the time burden for some classes. If individual departments would take the initiative to get anonymous feedback from TAs, they might find room to make minor improvements that would make life easier for their TAs and garner a feeling of being valued and appreciated.

Another question I was very eager to ask was what this group had learned from being a TA this semester. I was pleased to hear that the most pervasive takeaway was gaining a framework for how to teach classes themselves one day. In addition to choosing the topics covered and how they were communicated to students, other important choices witnessed were how to engage the class, how to design class incentives, and how to deal with unexpected events in the classroom. I believe that being a TA is a valuable stepping-stone to developing your own teaching philosophy, and it was great to hear that after only one semester these new TAs had gained this appreciation too. The TA position is very unique, since you are a bridge between professors and students and get to witness both of their perspectives and appreciate both of their opinions. In addition to developing and improving communication and organizational skills, it’s an opportunity to watch a professor/mentor to see how their methods and approaches do or don’t work, and to assess how your own interactions with students are or are not effective.

This brings me to my final discussion point with the TAs, which was how important it is to take time to reflect on your own teaching effectiveness. End-of-semester reviews are a prime opportunity to get direct feedback from students and to consider any changes that you might make in future semesters. And just as we make resolutions in the New Year, we should consider making resolutions in the classroom as well. The start of new semesters is an opportunity for a clean slate, a fresh focus, and a renewed commitment. By developing a reflective and evolving teaching practice, we can continue to grow and improve for the benefit of our students.


Image credit:“Leave,” Condesign, Pixabay (CC)

Written as part of of my Teaching Affiliate follow-up project for the Center for Teaching

Technology in the Classroom: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

When used well, technology in the classroom can be a great tool as long as students and professors are conscientious of how and when it is used to get the most benefit. But in the technological age we live in, how do we know when to take advantage of the gadgets we have available and when to take a step back and turn them off?

I was inspired to write this post by a professor that I currently work with who has a very strict cell phone policy in her classroom. She even spent a great deal of time on the first and second days of class explaining her policy and the rationale behind it. When she explained to students that they would need to turn off their cell phones and put them away before walking through the door, and could not turn them back on until they walked out the door after class, there were a lot of eye rolls throughout the classroom. But she had many valid points about how distracting cell phones can be and how that negatively affects student learning (more on that later).

This got me thinking – in the technological age we live in, how do we know when to take advantage of the gadgets we have available and when to take a step back and turn them off?

When used well, technology in the classroom can be a great tool to engage students and relate to their interests. Multi-media presentations are visual and interactive, using polling software such as PollEverywhere offers valuable feedback and gauges understanding in real time, and media assignments such as writing in discussion forums, creating Prezis, or editing websites allow students to display their knowledge in creative formats.

The problem arises when technology interferes with student learning. Some PowerPoint presentation formats can be perceived as boring and ugly by students, and can disconnect the professor from the pace of student learning.  Presentations should be built to guide lectures or discussions and not to just be read from directly.  Professors should also remain flexible and attentive to student needs despite having prepared the slides in advance.  Finally, special consideration should be given to if, how, and when to share slides with students.  If students expect to get the slides, then how will that affect their ability to concentrate in class or to take notes?  As long as the professor is conscious of this, they can decide how to address it in their classroom.

Speaking of taking notes, another way technology enters the classroom these days is that many students prefer to write or type notes on their tablets or laptops.  Research has shown that this can impair learning since they tend to multitask and get distracted, which undermines their capacity to comprehend and recall information.  Another recent study by Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) has shown that even when students are focusing strictly on taking notes, they process information better when writing in longhand rather than typing on a keyboard.  When students write in longhand, they have to think critically about what is important and translate that into their own words.  On the other hand, when students type notes, they tend to write as much as possible, transcribing lectures verbatim and processing less information in the present.

Finally, we arrive at the issue of cell phones.  Anyone who has been in a college classroom in the past 10-15 years has witnessed the way these can be a huge distraction to everyone, not just the person playing with the device.  Even the most well-intentioned student can forget to turn their volume off, or can get distracted by a vibration or an alert that pops up on screen.  Unfortunately, I have also heard of them being used in some instances for dishonorable academic conduct such as looking up answers during a test.  So how do we deal with cell phones when nearly every student brings them to class?  I have heard of or experienced a few solutions to this problem that are worth considering.  A professor in my undergraduate university had a policy that if a cell phone rang during class, he would offer an impromptu quiz to the class.  A friend who recently started teaching at a state school said it was the policy of the department to turn off and hand in cell phones during exams.  And as I mentioned in the introduction, the professor I currently work with has students use the doorframe as a physical barrier to have students put away cell phones, which represents the mental cue to the brain that it’s time to focus on class.

So why all the fuss about cell phones?  It turns out that they can actually have an enormous impact on student learning.  Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin (2015) describes research showing that the brain is not very good at mutitasking – rather than juggling a bunch of tasks at once, it is actually just switching between them very rapidly, while losing some efficiency and capacity at the same time.  This is physically stressful for the brain, which releases stress hormones in the process.  Additionally, trying to learn while multitasking causes the new information to go to the wrong part of the brain, meaning it won’t end up in your long term memory for later recall.  Other research shows that the brain has a “novelty bias”, which rewards it for finding something new.  This means that the alerts on our cell phones that pop up, even when it’s on silent, take over our brain and compete with whatever classroom task we were previously trying to focus on.  Finally, research has found that being in a situation where you are trying to concentrate on a task, while simultaneously knowing that an email is sitting unread in your inbox, can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points.  That’s huge!  All in all, the evidence is overwhelming that cell phones decrease learning potential.

While sharing some of this information with students might garner some eye rolls, it’s worth considering.  Just as professors should be meticulous about their approach to teaching, so should students be diligent about their learning.  Metacognition is an important skill for students to foster, and presenting them with information about how their brains interact with technology is an important piece of that puzzle.  When used well, technology in the classroom can be a great tool as long as students and professors are conscientious of how and when it is used to get the most benefit.


Image credit:“Technology,” Skeeze, Pixabay (CC)

Mueller, P. A. & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). “The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand over Laptop Note Taking”Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159-1168

Levitin, D. (2015). “Why the Modern World is Bad for the Brain”Published by the Guardian, an excerpt from The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload”.  

What is Good Teaching?

Who has been your favorite teacher and what are some characteristics that described their approach to teaching? How can you bring those principles into your own interactions with students while creating a teaching philosophy and practice of your own? Here are some of my thoughts on developing a thoughtful and reflective approach to the classroom.

This August I began working as a Teaching Affiliate for the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching, where my main duty was to lead a day-long orientation workshop for new TAs in the Economics and Mathematics departments.  As part of the preparation, I spent a week of training with other Teaching Affiliates from across the University where we delved into topics such as TA roles and relationships, effective grading and office hours, leading discussions, and creating an inclusive classroom.

Among these topics, I think one of the most significant discussions we had was “what is good teaching?”  While some new TAs might see their position as purely administrative (grading, holding office hours, etc.), I think it’s important to emphasize that every interaction with students, in person or otherwise, is a teaching moment.  That means we must be conscientious about how we approach every situation to promote student learning.

When I brought this discussion to my group of graduate students at TA Orientation, we began by considering concrete experiences.  Who had been their favorite teacher and why?  What characteristics described this great teacher?  What stood out about their approach to teaching?  We used this discussion as a springboard to create  a word cloud that displayed characteristics of good teaching.  The word cloud above is a re-creation from this activity, and was produced using PollEverywhere software, which is a great tool for allowing student participation in classroom discussions and activities.

Next, I brought in some theory by introducing the INSPIRE model of teaching (Wood and Tanner, 2012) and connecting that to the characteristics we had highlighted before.  The INSPIRE model was developed from observing effective tutoring practices, and it describes effective teachers as Intelligent, Nurturant, Socratic, Progressive, Indirect, Reflective, and Encouraging.

These teaching principles continued to be instructive throughout the rest of TA orientation in various contexts as we discussed day-to-day duties such as grading and holding office hours or review sessions, and how they could be applied in each situation to promote student learning.

In the end, being a TA is a stepping stone to creating a teaching philosophy and practice of your own.  In addition to fostering communication and organizational skills, it’s an opportunity to watch a professor/mentor and see how their methods and approaches do or don’t work, and to assess how your own interactions with students are or are not effective.  It’s the beginning of developing a thoughtful and reflective approach to the classroom, which is essential for good teaching.

For more about my teaching practice and philosophy, feel free to contact me.

Wood, W. B., & Tanner, K. D. (2012). “The Role of the Lecturer as Tutor: Doing What Effective Tutors Do in a Large Lecture Class.” CBE Life Sciences Education, 11(1), 3–9.