Student Spotlight-Michael Gawlick
For a long time, I wanted to be a teacher. Through AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), I got my chance to at least experience a classroom, working with Washington Elementary School, in Sacramento, California. The experience has had a rather profound effect on me, as well as the other NCCC members that served there. We often still reflect on two philosophies, “connect to correct instead of catch to punish” and “light the fire instead of filling the vessel.” Often times, I cannot help but feel that these two statements directly relate with the Institute of Public Policy’s evaluation of the Missouri Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Program (MOTPP). This statewide evaluation looks to determine the impact of pregnancy prevention curricula and programs in the lives of youth throughout Missouri. Working with a diverse group of stakeholders from the Missouri Department of Health and Social Services to local health departments and schools, and of course, local communities, the evaluation provides analysis on how the students respond to what they learn, as well as ways communities can improve. To connect with students and ensure they are educated over themes of sexual education and the potential lifelong consequences, as well as encouraging students to understand themselves, to learn, and to feel empowered in themselves, are all major and important components to strengthening communities and helping youth to garner confidence in themselves.
I have been working on the MOTPP project for almost two years now as a graduate research assistant at the Truman School of Public Affairs. As with any evaluation, there is the day to day necessity of data entry, communication with other stakeholders on the project, and attention to detail. However, the Institute of Public Policy gives students the ability to stretch themselves and develop professional skills. The team gave me the opportunity to run data analysis and clean data for federal reporting standards, even quasi-promoting me to the position of Lead Evaluation Coordinator. This allowed me to put my statistical analysis skills to use, as well as develop and update code, frame reports, have direct contact with facilitators and contractors, and understand the necessity of accurately portraying data. In addition, I have been fortunate enough to help train and guide other students on the project. This is crucial. When working on a data project with hundreds of individual data points and deadlines, it is important that the team work together and make sure to present the most correct and accurate information.
As enjoyable as this experience has been in terms of professional and personal development, I still find myself thinking back to my time working with the students of Washington Elementary. What could a project like MOTPP have meant to those students? What does it mean to our communities? I have loved the research and challenges associated with the MOTPP project. I love the student and community response more. Seeing students from all backgrounds feel more confident, self-assured and empowered, seeing communities impacted by this program and how the evaluation helps them continue in their mission to build a better community - these are all reasons I wanted to pursue graduate education in the first place. Of course, I have to thank Kristi, Zach, Gwen, Soo-Yeon, Bart, Tracey, and Emily for all of this. They took a chance and gave me the opportunity to learn, grow, and better understand how research, evaluation, and quantitative/qualitative analysis can better support communities.
“Light the fire instead of filling the vessel.” My good friend Allyson reminded me of this back in January. I find it a rather enjoyable statement to reflect upon as my time at the Institute ends. As Plutarch said, “the correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting – no more – and then it motivates one towards originality and instills the desire for truth.” Evaluation can help lead us towards the truth, but it is up to us to pursue justness and fairness in truth for our communities.