Kayla Gabehart

Kathleen Bailey







Kayla was born and raised in a small, agricultural town on the Eastern Plains of Colorado. She grew up working on her family’s cattle farm. This is where she first became interested in the environmental politics of agriculture, as well as policy conflict between rural towns and urban centers.

Kayla received bachelor’s degrees from the University of Colorado Denver in history, summa cum laude; psychology, with honors, and a minor in political science in 2014. During the last semester of her undergraduate degree, she studied abroad in Berlin, Germany at Ecologic Institute, with a focus on environmental politics and policy. During this time, she also served as a policy intern for the European headquarters of the Nature Conservancy. She later earned her master’s degree in environmental and economic history, with honors, also from the University of Colorado Denver in 2017. Her master’s thesis focused on the historical constructions of the environment in the American mind and the commodification of the environment.

From 2016 to 2023, Kayla worked full-time in the public service sector. She worked as a federal government contractor, serving as a fiscal grant specialist for Head Start, Region 8 in the Administration of Children and Families for just under two years. Beginning in 2017, she served as the Associate Director of two educational non-profits for students in grades 4-12 based at the University of Colorado Denver, National History Day in Colorado and Colorado Student Leaders Institute.

Kayla begin her Ph.D. in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver in 2019. She is currently ABD, and works as a research assistant in the Center for Policy and Democracy. She teaches courses in the undergraduate, Master’s of Public Policy, and Master’s of Public Administration programs. She also serves as the Wirth Chair Program Coordinator, where she helps to coordinate a speakers’ series that focuses on community engagement around issues of democracy. 

Kayla’s research focuses primarily on environmental policy and politics and rural-urban conflict, as well as issues of democratic inclusion, the role of emotions in policy, and the policy process. Some of her theoretical and analytical competencies include the Advocacy Coalition Framework, Emotion-Belief Analysis, network analysis, and U.S. politics, among others.

Her dissertation focuses on rural-urban policy conflicts around environmental issues that implicate agriculture, and utilizes the ACF and Emotion-Belief Analysis to analyze the role of culture and social identity in the rural-urban divide and larger political polarization.