Shelly Culbertson

Photo of Shelly Culbertson
Associate Director, Disaster Management & Resilience Program, RAND Homeland Security Research Division; Senior Policy Researcher
Pittsburgh Office


M.P.A. in public policy and international development, Princeton University School for Public and International Affairs; B.Phil. in political science and philosophy, University of Pittsburgh; B.S. in mathematics, University of Pittsburgh

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Shelly Culbertson is the associate director of the Disaster Management & Resilience Program (DMR), part of the RAND Homeland Security Research Division. She is a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. Culbertson focuses on disaster recovery and post-conflict recovery, forced displacement, international development, and education. She has led multiple studies about refugees, with particular focus on education, jobs, humanitarian assistance models, return conditions, and technology, and she coleads RAND's Mass Migration Strategy Group. She led a hurricane recovery implementation plan for the U.S. Virgin Islands, sponsored by FEMA, a study on municipal recovery capacities needed for recovery in Puerto Rico, and a study on post-conflict stabilization of Mosul, Iraq after the operations against ISIS. Her international development work has focused on the Middle East. She co-led a multi-year effort to advise the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq on improving education and coordinated RAND's project to design programs for the Qatar National Research Fund, which has now awarded over a billion dollars in research grants. Prior to RAND, she worked at the U.S. State Department on Turkey, and at LMI Government Consulting. Her commentaries have appeared in Foreign Policy, The National Interest, The Hill, Foreign Affairs, Newsweek, and other news outlets, and she has conducted media interviews on MSNBC, NPR, BBC World, and other outlets. Culbertson is the author of The Fires of Spring: A Post Arab Spring Journey Through the Turbulent New Middle East (St. Martin's Press). She earned her M.P.A. in public policy and international development from the School for Public and International Affairs, Princeton University.

Selected Publications

Shelly Culbertson, Blas Nuñez-Neto, Joie D. Acosta, Cynthia R. Cook, Andrew Lauland, Kristin J. Leuschner, Shanthi Nataraj, Benjamin L. Preston, Susan A. Resetar, Adam C. Resnick, Patrick S. Roberts, Howard J. Shatz, Recovery in the United States Virgin Islands: Progress, Challenges, and Options for the Future, RAND Corporation (RR-A282-1), 2020

Shelly Culbertson, The Fires of Spring: A Post-Arab Spring Journey Through the Turbulent New Middle East, St. Martin's Press, 2016

Shelly Culbertson and Linda Robinson, Making Victory Count after Defeating ISIS: Stabilization Challenges in Mosul and Beyond, The RAND Corporation (RR-2076), 2017

Shelly Culbertson, Julia H. Kaufman, Jenna W. Kramer, Brian Phillips, Educating Newcomers: K–12 Public Schooling for Undocumented and Asylum-Seeking Children in the United States, The RAND Corporation (RR-A1326-1), 2021

Shelly Culbertson, John Bordeaux, Italo Gutierrez, Andrew Lauland, Kristin Leuschner, Blas Nunez-Neto, Lisa Saum-Manning, Building Back Locally: Supporting Puerto Rico's Municipalities in Post-Hurricane Reconstruction, The RAND Corporation (RR-3041), 2020

Louay Constant, Shelly Culbertson, Jonathan S. Blake, Mary Kate Adgie, Hardika Dayalani, In Search of a Durable Solution: Examining the Factors Influencing Postconflict Refugee Returns, The RAND Corporation (RR-A1327-1), 2021

Krishna B. Kumar, Shelly Culbertson, Louay Constant, Shanthi Nataraj, Fatih Unlu, Kathryn E. Bouskill, Joy S. Moini, Katherine Costello, Gursel Rafig oglu Aliyev, Fadia Afashe, Opportunities for All: Mutually Beneficial Opportunities for Syrians and Host Countries in Middle Eastern Labor Markets, The RAND Corporation (RR-2653), 2018

Shelly Culbertson, James Dimaragonas, Katherine Costello, Serafina Lanna, Crossing the Digital Divide: Applying Technology to the Global Refugee Crisis, The RAND Corporation (RR-4322), 2018

Honors & Awards

  • 2018 Gold Medal
  • 2018 Zwick Impact Award
  • 2020 Bronze Medal

Recent Media Appearances

Interviews: 51 Percent Online - WAMC/Northeast Public Radio;; BBC World News; Business Insider; Exame; Global Dispatches Podcast; Here and There, Santa Fe Public Radio; KFSR Dave Marash radio show; Marketplace; MSNBC; Rudy Maxa’s World with the Careys; Voice of America; WAMC Roundtable; World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh

Commentary: CNN; EduTech Magazine; Newsweek; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; U.S. News & World Report