Erica Kohl-Arenas currently serves as the Faculty Director of Imagining America at the University of California, Davis, where she is also an associate professor in the Department of American Studies.
Previously, she was an Assistant Professor at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at The New School where she received university awards in Outstanding Achievements in Diversity and Social Justice Teaching and the Distinguished University Teacher Award. She earned her PhD from the Social and Cultural Studies in Education program at the University of California, Berkeley (2010), an MS in Community Development from the University of California, Davis (1999), and a BA in Sociology from Reed College (1991).
Kohl-Arenas' book, The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty (University of
California Press, 2016), analyzes the history of philanthropic investments in addressing farmworker and immigrant poverty across California’s Central Valley. For her work on this book, Kohl-Arenas was named philanthropy critic of the year by Inside Philanthropy in 2016. Her primary research areas include studies of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, participatory development, and the intersection of American and global poverty studies.
Prior to her graduate studies, Kohl-Arenas worked as a popular educator and community development practitioner in a variety of settings including urban public schools, immigrant nonprofit organizations, and coal mining and ‘crofting’ towns in Appalachia, Scotland, and Wales. Public scholarship and community collaborations include a social history memoir on the progressive school reform movement with her father Herb Kohl, a cultural organizing curriculum project with the Pan Valley Institute of the American Friends Service Committee, and student engagement projects with New York City nonprofit organizations incuding Tenants and Neighbors, Hunts Point Alliance for Children, the Center for Court Innovation, the Humanities Action Lab 'States of Incarceration' project, and Groundswell Murals.
Erica's work in classrooms and communities is inspired by an early experience working with the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee. She has also been a fellow with the Coro Foundation, the Sustainable Communities Leadership Program, and The Thomas J. Watson Foundation.