University-Based Centers TIG Week: Working with Students at a University-Based Evaluation and Research Center by Rae Jing Han, Liz Litzler, Erin Carll, Emily Knaphus-Soran, and Daniel Mackin Freeman

Hi! We are Rae Jing Han, Liz Litzler, Erin Carll, Emily Knaphus-Soran, and Daniel Mackin Freeman from the University of Washington Center for Evaluation & Research for STEM Equity. Our center usually employs 6-10 students (graduate and undergraduate) to help us with our evaluation and research projects. We love the energy and perspective students bring, and over time, we have learned a few things about the strengths students bring to our work and some strategies for supporting them in their role.  We have incorporated student voices in quotes.

Some of the strengths that students bring to our work are:

  • Skills: Students are often trained to use up-to-date analytic techniques and software and share their expertise with other students and staff.
  • Knowledge and perspectives: Students offer additional ways of thinking and deep engagement with recent scholarly and popular discussions. This helps the group to see our work in new lights, including through different disciplinary lenses.
  • Accountability: Students are crucial to our ongoing, collective efforts to align our center’s work with our equity values. They bring strong commitments to justice and a willingness to have thoughtful discussions, raise their concerns, and ask hard questions in order to move toward anti-oppressive practices.
  • Community: CERSE students contribute to its community and peer support, often in leadership and creative roles, such as leading our brownbag series.

Some of the supports we provide for students include:

  • Professional skills and expectations: Students gain experience with written and verbal communication (often including with clients and external collaborators), leadership, critical thinking, creativity, attention to detail, collaboration, and others.
  • Technical skills: Students’ baseline skills vary, which can make it challenging to provide standardized support and training relevant to all students. As needed, students use paid time to learn evaluation principles, software, methods, and logic models.

“Being able to learn new skills, especially in research. How to build charts in excel, data viz, Qualtrics surveys… I am much more able to produce research documents and… I haven’t been able to do that in a lot of other spaces.”

  • Paid tuition: Graduate students in stipend positions (not hourly) have their tuition paid by CERSE for the quarter of their appointment with us. 
  • Flexibility: CERSE accommodates students’ multiple commitments and shifting schedules, which do not always align with project needs. Students are encouraged to determine their own working hours and adjust as needed in communication with supervisors. We have to plan for student scheduling changes and limited availability during school breaks.

“I enjoyed the stability and flexibility and work/life balance of the work. The expectations are much clearer (than with graduate advisors) and there is a priority to take care of yourself so you also do good work.”

  • Advising and mentorship: Students meet weekly with their supervisor(s). These check-ins are opportunities for relationship-building, offering guidance, and strategizing together regarding challenges in project work.
  • Community: Students learn with and from each other as well as staff. CERSE hosts student-led research and career brown bags as a place of peer feedback and mentorship, which supports the team’s learning and development as scholars beyond their specific CERSE projects. 
  • Model for inclusive management practices: CERSE strives to be intentional regarding power dynamics, transparency, and shared decision-making. These practices may be a model for students and support a positive employment experience. For example, CERSE staff attend to airtime in project meetings and all-staff meetings and invite students to facilitate and/or nominate topics for staff meetings.

Lesson Learned

We keep trying new things to make sure our students are supported and have a good experience at CERSE.  We’d love to hear about your experiences as well!

The American Evaluation Association is hosting University-Based Centers (UBC) TIG week. All posts this week are contributed by members of the UBC Topical Interest Group. 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 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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