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Graduate Students & New Evaluators TIG Week: How Evaluation Found Me: My Journey into the World of Program Evaluation by Christine Liboon

This week, the members of the Graduate Students and New Evaluators (GSNE) TIG share various tips, tricks, resources, and points of view that can be helpful for students and new evaluators. We hope both evaluators, new and old, will review this material and share the resources and stories with each other.
-Crystal Luce, GSNE Chair

Hi everyone! My name is Christine Liboon and I am a doctoral candidate at UCLA’s School of Education and Information Studies (Ed&IS)’s Social Research Methodology program. As many in our field may share that they “stumbled into evaluation” – that was my case. So, how did evaluation find me? First, a bit of background context on how this happened.

Lessons Learned

I carved a non-linear pathway. I was one of the many students that graduated at the start of the 2008 economic recession. Fresh with a bachelor’s in Ethnic Studies, the search for an entry-level job that directly related to my degree was challenging. However, I was lucky enough to come across an opportunity to teach abroad as a language assistant and teacher. I spent two and a half years in Spain.

I met someone working on program evaluation. When I returned, my experience in teaching and education led me to assist a Professor Emerita and her graduate student to collect data on classroom observations for a project-based learning curriculum at a turnaround school. Little did I know I stumbled into the world of educational research and evaluation with this first project. I spent the beginning of the early 2010’s as an assistant external evaluator with her and other consultants on a multitude of on-going small-scale educational projects. Two of these programs included a parent leadership education program for newcomer parents in the greater Los Angeles area and a San Diego based afterschool STEM engineering education program that provided middle school and high school students in communities defined as traditionally under-resourced and historically minoritized. While I was only asked to collect data, analyze and write reports, I hadn’t realized that what I was doing was program evaluation and improvement for nonformal educational programs.

After some evaluation experience, I personally identified the potential benefit of program improvement through evaluation and formalized evaluation education. As my previous evaluation gigs were independent contracts funded by grants with an end date, I couldn’t sustain myself for much longer on an income solely via soft money. I started working for a San Diego based resettlement agency. The experience looped me back to my teaching days in Spain while helping refugee parents that were funded through WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act). I became the vocational ESL instructor and the program coordinator. Evaluative activities fell on myself, and my program staff colleagues to uptake and demonstrate the effectiveness of our program per requirements. As both instructor and program coordinator who worked alongside my colleagues in and out of the classroom to provide better services and opportunities for our clients, my previous experience working on external evaluations led me to believe there existed a better understanding of program evaluation & improvement while building an understanding across the organization of evaluation as an opportunity to enhance the experience for our clients by collecting quality feedback and reflection.

This led me to question: how do programs in nonformal educational spaces continue to improve and develop? How may program evaluation assist in program development and improvement? And lastly, how does policy and practice impact a program’s ability to serve its clients?

Therefore, I applied to UCLA School of Education and Information Studies’ Social Research Methodology program with a focus on program evaluation and continue as a doctoral student. See my first article of the GSNE sponsored week, “It’s Not a Sprint, it’s a Marathon.” Choosing a Doctoral Degree in Program Evaluation.

If you ever want to discuss your journey into evaluation or are considering pursuing a degree in evaluation, please don’t hesitate to connect with me via LinkedIn: Christine Liboon

AEA is hosting GSNE Week with our colleagues in the Graduate Student and New Evaluators AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our GSNE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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