PPA is partnering with Michigan State University (MSU) to offer graduate students experience in a real-world setting.
Students pursuing a master’s in program evaluation at MSU must complete a practicum sequence. A practicum gives students the opportunity to continue developing their evaluation skills in settings where evaluations are being conducted. Paige Haight joined PPA as an evaluation student. Ms. Haight sat down to discuss her experience at PPA.
When you joined PPA what did you hope to achieve?
I wanted the opportunity to take what I learned in the classroom and apply it in a business setting. I am a hands-on learner and was eager to apply the evaluation knowledge I gained. Overall I wanted to be exposed to the evaluation world.
Were you able to achieve those objectives?
Yes. I was exposed to much more than I anticipated. PPA did a great job at including me in areas that I didn’t know evaluators worked in. I learned that the work that is most meaningful to clients is not always something you learn from a textbook.
What projects were you able to observe?
I was able to observe and participate in PPA’s research and evaluation work in several areas:
- Observed a PPA evaluation process funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. The department funded two initiatives that PPA is evaluating—the Virginia Financial Success Network and the Kansas Department of Commerce.
- Shadowed Phil Hernandez, PPA research assistant, during on-site compliance monitoring visits throughout the State of Michigan for the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).
- Assisted Dr. Paul Elam, PPA President, with the planning and facilitation of senior focus groups commissioned by AARP regarding the Flint water crisis.
- Participated in data-collection efforts with Washtenaw County Trial Court to support the Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice’s Disproportionate Minority Contact Initiative.
I definitely had some eye-opening experiences because of these projects.
Could you talk about those experiences and what you learned from them?
Sure. On the site visits I was exposed to correctional facilities in person for the first time. After witnessing how the system works, I came away with many questions about the criminal justice system in terms of how and why it operates. With the AARP focus groups I was able to see a side of the crisis that has largely been ignored by the media. I learned firsthand the challenges that seniors are currently dealing with in the Flint community. Both experiences opened my eyes to the possibilities of evaluation work and how it can inform the development of public policy.
Who did you work closely with during your time at PPA?
I was able to work with most of the staff in some way. But Dr. Elam and Colleen Graber were my supervisors. I was able to learn many valuable lessons by working with them. By working with Ms. Graber I learned the importance of effectively communicating with stakeholders. It is important to know how to communicate with different audiences. From Dr. Elam I learned the importance of public speaking, and that it is a valuable to skill have for any profession.
Do you have any advice for future evaluation students?
I would tell students to take advantage of any opportunity or experience you are offered. Being an evaluation student at PPA exposed me to many valuable learning opportunities.
What are your plans after completing your practicum sequence?
I hope to gain experience in program development and make positive contributions to policy reform through my evaluation practice. I would also like to continue my education in community psychology in order to better understand system reform that will bring equity to underserved populations.
Ms. Haight was offered and accepted a position at PPA after completing her practicum. She is currently a research assistant.