Already four and a half weeks into the semester? That can't be right...Before I left Seattle, someone advised me to "make the most of every opportunity." Thus far, I most certainly have! This fall I am taking four classes: budgeting, program evaluation, global political science and computer programming for data science (python). On top of that, I have a couple of part time jobs: graduate research assistant and "smart" policy analyst. During the first week of school I even got an email with an offer to take on a third job as a grader for an undergraduate course, but I knew I had to respectfully decline. There are only so many hours in a day!
Class 1: Budgeting
I love this class. The instructor is the former Office of Management and Budget Director for the State of Rhode Island. He knows all the ins and outs of putting together multi-billion dollar budgets and getting them approved by the Governor and General Assembly. So far we have had fantastic guest speakers: the Rhode Island Budget Director, the Rhode Island Medicaid Director and the former Rhode Island Senate Finance Committee Chair. The policies, procedures and politics of it all are fascinating.
After we heard from the State Medicaid Director, I turned to my classmates and confessed, "I don't even know why I pretend to flirt with the idea of working at a policy lab or a think tank for a few years; I know I'm going back to government eventually. I just love it too much!!!" They laughed. Bureaucracy is Beautiful™️.
Class 2: Program Evaluation
This class is my second chance at redemption for all the concepts I did not quite grasp in statistics and economics over the summer. So far it has been a lot of reading empirical journal articles and interpreting regression tables. I really don't mind it, though. I'm learning things! At a work meeting yesterday the boss suggested doing a stratified randomization of assignment into treatment and control groups, and I actually knew what she was talking about.
Class 3: Global Political ScienceI took a grand total of one political science course in undergrad, so this class is expanding my mind for sure. We are learning different theories on nation-state building, political processes and governance. It can definitely get abstract and esoteric at times, but I kind of love it. Sometimes it's great to live fully into my egghead truth. I knew I would like this class as soon as the professor started his first lecture by framing "the contours of academics debates on policymaking."
Class 4: Computer Programming for Data Science
One of my goals this year was to learn python, a computer programming language that is useful in a variety of settings. Going in, I knew some front-end coding (HTML and CSS) but python is different. We started out basic ("Hello World!") then worked our way up to creating a tip calculator. Most recently, we wrote a program where a user types in the state they live in and get the names of their two U.S. Senators, plus some info. about them.
The assignment was frustrating because I kept getting error messages, but once it started running successfully, I was so proud of myself. Look out, world!!
Job 1: Graduate Research AssistantWhen I was initially considering whether or not to enroll at Brown, I spoke with current students to ask about faculty and their research. After I told them my interests, they all had the same answer for me: "You should connect with Margaret Weir!" I met with Professor Weir this summer to discuss her latest research on urban political geography and equity impacts. It was a match!
Being a research assistant is great. In undergrad I actually really enjoyed doing literature reviews and annotated bibliographies so setting aside five hours a week to comb over journal articles, budget reports, press releases and legal documents is heavenly. The subject matter is interesting, too. Not everyone enjoys the minutiae of property and sales tax policy at the state and municipal levels but I do!! I love this stuff.
Job 2: "Smart" Policy AnalystSometimes public policy requires a little creativity. I'm working on an innovative education initiative, Rhode2College (R2C), a state-wide program that guides low and moderate-income high school students through the steps to apply for and then (hopefully) enroll in college. Eligible high school juniors text "Rhody," an AI chatbot, who gives them a "milestone" to complete each month (SAT prep, college search, FAFSA filing). When they finish a milestone, students get a digital gift card and some money for a college savings account. Over two years they can earn up to $2,000!
This is an exciting public-private partnership between the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, College Board, the Rhode Island Department of Education, the Rhode Island Governor's Office and Research Improving People's Lives (the Brown-affiliated policy lab I work for). Last week I was able to visit some high schools and meet students ("Rhode2College Scholars"). It was touching to see how much just being selected for the program seemed to boost their self-confidence. I hope R2C will have a positive impact on their lives.
ExtracurricularsOf course, I've made time to have some "fun" too!
- I went with friends to the homecoming football game. Brown lost by a sizable margin but the marching band halftime performance was very cute.
- Kristen came to visit!! It was so nice to see her and catch up while showing her my favorite Providence foodie finds (PVDonuts, Den Den, Like No Udder). I felt a little less homesick after seeing her.
- We celebrated David's birthday and his first poetry slam performance. I love my family!! (Not pictured: pizza and Black Panther night at Jill's).
- I met Chris Hayes and DeRay McKesson in the span of a week! Hearing from both of them inspired me and strengthened my determination to "stay the course." (Not pictured: an elevator conversation with U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.) Is this real life?? I'm starstruck by all these thought leaders. Yes, I am a nerd. And I am living my dream!!
In conclusion, I am really enjoying myself out here! I'm grateful. I know this is a special time in my life. Like Mary, I'm treasuring it all up in my heart.
Thank you to everyone back home who has written through Snapchat, text, email, postcard and letter. My bedroom wall is a mosaic of correspondence. I do miss Seattle and look forward to visiting in December.
Love and hugs,