By Meghan Chua
Though Jessa Lewis Valentine would describe her career path as wide-ranging in both geography and content area, there’s always been a common thread: applied social science research.
“I really enjoy program evaluation work for its powerful role in informing decision-making both on the ground and at the broader policy level,” she said.
Valentine is a managing consultant with DVP-PRAXIS LTD, a consulting firm focused on higher education and the workforce. As part of its work, the firm conducts research and policy analysis on issues facing higher education and the economy, such as support services for low-income students and institutional financial aid policies.
Valentine came to UW–Madison for a PhD in Sociology. As a graduate student, she studied the economic returns of college for students who don’t complete their degree.
Additionally, Valentine was a pre-doctoral fellow with the Interdisciplinary Training Program in the Education Sciences (ITP) and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, where she worked with students from various disciplines on a large-scale experimental study of a well-known school program. She was also able to participate in a weekly seminar focused on education research and attended a variety of conferences as a graduate student.
“My experience with ITP, combined with the sociology department’s strong research methods training, prepared me very well for my current role,” Valentine reflected.
As a managing consultant at DVP-PRAXIS LTD, Valentine works on a variety of projects, including some that are federally-funded. In one project, Valentine is managing a validation study of a student coaching model in community colleges in North Carolina, funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Valentine also has a key role in the evaluation of a U.S. Department of Labor funded initiative for low-skilled adults in Wisconsin to gain training in healthcare.
Throughout her graduate studies, Valentine had mentors who supported her interest in a non-academic career path. She said many of her fellow graduate students were concerned about expressing interest in a non-academic career, but it’s important to be up front with one’s interests early on.
“I would encourage current graduate students who are interested in exploring careers outside of academia to speak with their advisors about these interests early on and enlist their advisors’ support,” Valentine said. “I had wonderfully supportive mentors who all loved their own academic careers but who were very supportive of my pursuit of a different path.”