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New faculty Felipe Barrera-Osorio: Beyond the balance sheet

by Oct. 19, 2020, 7:00 AM

MyVU is spotlighting a select group of new faculty for 2020-21. Read more profiles in the series.

Like an accounting column leading to the bottom line, Felipe Barrera-Osorio’s early interest in economics seemed fairly straightforward. “I thought I would work on problems in macroeconomics, like money and growth,” he says.

But that changed when the Colombia native began his doctoral program in the United States.

“When I arrived to do my graduate studies here, I took a class about investment in human capital,” he explains, “and then I started to think, ‘That’s an interesting problem.’”

For much of his career since that time, Barrera-Osorio has dedicated his research toward understanding how education policies can increase human capital—that is, the knowledge, skills and other intangible assets that add value to an organization.

“I’m interested in knowing, for instance, if programs like conditional cash transfers will induce households to acquire more education, or if having options available, like charter schools, has a positive impact on student learning,” says Barrera-Osorio, now an associate professor in the Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations at Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development. His most recent research has looked at education policies in lower- and middle-income countries to determine their impact in furthering the development of the labor force.

“Vanderbilt is doing very powerful research in so many areas, and the LPO department is creating an amazing group of scholars.”

Barrera-Osorio comes to Vanderbilt from Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he taught courses in microeconomics for educators and in educational policy interventions in developing countries. Before that, he was a senior economist for the World Bank’s Human Development Education Network and deputy director of the Fedesarrollo, a nonprofit policy research center in his native Bogotá, where he studied Colombian education, poverty and social protections. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia and a doctoral degree in economics from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Peabody’s environment of collaborative research played a big role in Barrera-Osorio’s decision to come to Nashville. “Vanderbilt is doing very powerful research in so many areas,” he says, “and the LPO department is creating an amazing group of scholars.”

At Peabody he will teach educational development and economics for undergraduates, as well as courses for graduate students that will look at the intersection of economics and international education policies. He also will teach econometrics for master’s-level students.

Nashville’s reputation as Music City was another draw for Barrera-Osorio, who is an amateur musician. “I try to play the piano,” he laughs.

“Though I have dual citizenship, I feel very Colombian. It’s part of my legacy and my culture,” he says. “But there is a link between jazz and African American music and Colombia, so Nashville is attractive by its own merit because of all the culture and music coming from here.”

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