Washington Evaluators Week: Fostering Student Engagement in Evaluation by Esther Nolton

Greetings, fellow evaluators! My name is Esther Nolton and I am a doctoral student at George Mason University (Fairfax, VA) and a Research Analyst at 2M Research (Arlington, VA). I have had the pleasure of participating in the DC Consortium Student Conference on Evaluation & Policy (DC SCEP) both as a student presenter and as an Organizing Committee member.

DC SCEP is a student-organized conference from institutions in the Washington, DC consortium of universities and has approximately 100 students attend each year. This conference aligns perfectly with President Tessie Catsambas’ vision for AEA to “nurture a vibrant evaluation community of practice that promotes partnership, scholarship, open exchanges, and mentorship—a community that welcomes and encourages young evaluators, delights in intellectual discourse, and makes space for differences in practice and thinking.”

DC SCEP was originally founded by faculty from George Washington University (Dr. Kathy Newcomer), Howard University (Dr. Veronica Thomas), and George Mason University (Dr. Rodney Hopson[1]), with Dr. Valerie Caracelli (GAO), and the inaugural meeting was held at Howard University in 2017. That year, the group featured Dr. Michael Quinn Patton (Utilization-Focused Evaluation) as the keynote speaker. Following a successful first convening, my predecessors shared what they learned about engaging graduate student in knowledge brokering at the 2017 AEA conference.

When I attended in 2018, the Organizing Committee brought us another phenomenal keynote by Dr. Stafford Hood (University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign). I joined the Organizing Committee the following year and we were able to get Dr. Jean King (University of Minnesota) to serve as our keynote speaker in 2019. In addition to an impressive pedigree of keynote speakers, the conference offers many other formats for engagement and learning in just a short one-day event, such as:

  • Networking Facilitation – 10-12 local evaluation experts join us for lunch and students are encouraged to rotate about the room to engage with the facilitators. In the past, these practitioners have been from a variety of settings.
  • Panel Discussion – 3-5 panelists (from the companies above) engaged in a panel discussion and spoke about key issues in evaluation.
  • Student Presentations – Students submit abstracts, receive feedback on their submissions, and have an opportunity to share their papers as either oral or poster presentations with all conference attendees (i.e. networking facilitators, other speakers, and peers).
  • Networking Happy Hour – Our local AEA affiliate, Washington Evaluators, sponsors a happy hour for DC SCEP attendees.

Lessons Learned: As both a participant and an organizer of this event, I have observed DC SCEP to be an inspiring experience for DC-area graduate students. This conference offers students a unique opportunity to engage with peers and practitioners in a setting unlike any other. I see business cards exchanging hands and overhear brilliant, thoughtful conversations about evaluation. DC SCEP is an invaluable experience for everyone who attends and is a wonderful opportunity to invest in fostering student engagement in evaluation.

[1] Dr. Hopson has since left George Mason University and is now a faculty member at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Washington Evaluators (WE) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from WE Affiliate 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.

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