Passion for evaluation leads graduate student to GEDI program
by Jessica Montez
Tenah K. A. Hunt is a graduate student in social work and intern for the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER). She is in the fourth year of her doctoral program and over half way through her 10-month appointment with the Graduate Education Diversity Internship (GEDI) Program at WCER.
Hunt peeled away many layers to uncover her passion for evaluation research. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she changed her plan to attend medical school after she realized that a health-focused career didn’t necessarily require her to be a practitioner. She decided to pursue a Masters in Public Health at the University of Michigan instead. During her masters program, Hunt designed and implemented programs to promote healthy behavior which exposed her to evaluation.
Her appointment with GEDI focuses on developing and conducting program evaluation of the UW–Madison McNair Scholars Program, a program that prepares and supports underrepresented undergraduate students for continuation into a Ph.D. program. Maya Holtzman, the Associate Director of the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, wanted to acquire a sense of the program’s impact on students and saw the evaluation as a means to help identify ways to improve student experience in the McNair Scholars Program.
“It’s a win-win situation: the evaluation will answer questions we have about the impact of our program and provide Hunt with the environment to learn critical evaluation skills and add to her professional development," Holtzman says.
“I’ve been involved with this evaluation from the very start,” Hunt says. Working with Christine Pribbenow, The LEAD Center director, as her advisor and with staff in the McNair Scholars Program, Hunt created key questions that would help guide the overall evaluation. From there, Hunt developed and tested methods that would best answer those questions. In her methodology, she learned how to frame the evaluation in a strength-based way for both the program and the scholars being interviewed. She interviewed over half of the thirty scholars, addressing their opinions of the program, the areas of the program they found useful and how other areas could improve their experiences.
As she completes the data analysis, Hunt will review the interviews to identify key themes, develop a report describing her findings and give recommendations based on those results for the next steps of the evaluation. Although, more data analyses is needed, she found that students, overall, are having meaningful experiences in the McNair Scholars Program.
“It has provided them with a ton of resources, connections, skills, knowledge that will not only help them here, but apply successfully to grad school, and persist and complete grad school,” she says.
Over the course of the year, Hunt will have independently carried out the evaluation from start to finish, as the lead evaluator.
The evaluation has limitations, Hunt recognizes. It only addresses students currently in the program. She has proposed a survey to address McNair Scholars Program alumni experience in grad school, specifically, if they applied, persisted and completed.
After Hunt completes her evaluation project and dissertation, she plans to apply her experiences in mixed method research as an evaluator for organizations in multiple areas, including social work, education, and health-related programs.
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