Welcome, everyone. We’re so excited to be with you today and to have you here with us for our lunch break webinar entitled, So What do you Want to Be When you Grow, Grow Up? A Look Into a Unique, Meaningful Career for Curious Minds. Let me tell you a bit, before we get started, about the organization that’s sponsoring this webinar, today. So we’re all with The Rucks Group
And The Rucks Group is a research and program evaluation firm that works with clients to gather, analyze, and interpret data, to enable our clients, to measure the impact of their work. Hopefully, by the end of this webinar you’ll have a better understanding of exactly what all of that means. So, what is it that we’re trying to do for today?
First, we want to provide an introduction to program evaluation. One of the things that we learned in the process of the work that we do is that a lot of students are not very aware of program evaluation and particularly program evaluation as a career opportunity. So, it’s really our intent to introduce you to what program evaluation is, as well as to be able to share information about that as a career opportunity. Towards that end, one of the things that we will do is go through and talk about different career paths by sharing how we came to program evaluation. And then also, we will provide some information about experiential learning opportunities at the The Rucks Group –internships and fellowships, specifically. And of course, we want to make sure that we answer your questions. To be able to do all that, I’m really thrilled to have with us a couple of my colleagues from the …. So first we have, Alyssa McKinney-Hokky.
Hi, everyone. I am a Research Associate for The Rucks Group and I’m really looking forward to our session today.
Great, Thank you. And we have Julia’s Siwierka.
Hi, everyone. I am the Director of Research and Evaluation Services with the recs Group, and it’s a pleasure to be here with you all today.
Thanks, Julia. And you have yours truly, Lana Rucks and I am Principal Consultant with The Rucks Group. We also have with us, Alyce Hopes. I’m actually going to turn things over to Alyce for a moment so that she can introduce herself to you as well as give some information how what her role is with this webinar.
Hello, everyone. My name is Alyce Hopes and I am the outreach coordinator for The Rucks Group. As outreach coordinator, my role is actually less involved in the program evaluation scope of work, instead, I provide more support in our outreach and marketing initiatives. With that, you’ll actually be hearing less from me in terms of my career pathway. I am here today to be able to facilitate the Q&A portion of today’s Webinar. So, when you have any questions, be sure to use that question feature on the right side of your screen. When you submit your questions, I will be the only person who will be able to see it, but we’ll do our best to be able to answer your questions. And then there’ll be times when I would like to communicate information to the entire group, such as the survey. I’ll provide that link through the chat function, which is just below the question function. With that as context, I’ll give it back to Lana and we can go ahead and get started.
Thank you, Alyce. So why don’t we start with the first objective for this webinar, and that’s introducing what program evaluation is. There are a lot of different definitions of program evaluation. But there’s one in particular that I gravitate towards, and it’s that program evaluation is the “use of social science research methods applied to systematically investigate the effectiveness of social intervention programs”.
That’s a mouthful. Let me unpack that for a moment and say what that actually means. So, first, in regards to “social science research methods”, a lot of you, and kind of assuming that most of you, at some point, has had some introduction to a traditional research methods course, and as such, program evaluation really uses those types of methods in terms of gathering data. Program evaluation gathers data through experimental and quasi-experimental designs as well as comparative and pre-post designs. In terms of the actual data gathering methods, it’s gathering institutional data, having focus groups, or conducting interviews. So, the methods and designs should be very familiar to you, although, I would say that the rigorous designs of experimental and quasi-experimental don’t happen quite as often as you may see within traditional research.
The other piece of that definition is, that it’s “applied to systematically investigate”. Again, making a comparison against research, we know, research is driven by questions – well, program evaluation is also driven by questions. The real difference between program evaluation and research is really the nature of what those questions are. In research, the questions are much more focused on adding to a general body of knowledge, whereas, in program evaluation, the questions are much more centered around an initiative or a program. Then, the final piece of that definition is in regard to the “effectiveness of a social intervention program”. With program evaluation, the social science research methods are being applied to real-world contexts and real-world situations. And usually, these programs or situations, are grant-funded initiatives.
So, let me try to put what I just shared into perspective. One of the projects that The Rucks Group had the privilege of working on a few years ago, was in assessing the impact of participating and learning communities. And I know for many of you, you’ve been a part of a learning community at some point. This was a project that we were able to work on with the project team to understand the impact of that type of intervention had on students. We talked about program evaluation, using traditional research methods and designs, and that was very similar in this situation. We used a mixed-methods design which means we used different approaches to data gathering. We used quasi-experimental again, which was a little bit of an unusual design, but we also gathered institutional data and got information from interviews, focus groups, and surveys.
The other piece, too, is in regard to the difference in the types of questions that are being asked. So, in this situation, the question was much more focused on the impact of the initiative. So again, less focused on trying to add to a general body of knowledge, but much more focused in terms of what was the impact of the learning communities on student and student success. Then the final piece was implemented in a real-world context. This was at a university with actual Learning Communities, and the initiative was being funded by the Department of Education.
I’m going to pause there for a moment and see if there are any questions that may have emerged so far. Alyce, are there any questions at this point?
Are there other differences between research and program evaluation?
I often have conversations with individuals about really trying to make this distinction between what program evaluation is and what research is. I should say real quickly, why that’s usually the conversation is because generally speaking, a lot of individuals who are evaluators come from some sort of research tradition. And as a consequence, that’s the framework from which we try to understand what program evaluation is, isn’t. So usually, that’s the framework from which I will try to kind of think about, think about these kinds of topics. With that said, I think that the other piece related to what I was sharing about adding to a general body of knowledge, it also means that the focus and the purpose is not to generate a publication. It’s really to try to understand what that impact is and try to share that information back to the funder, or back to whoever is sponsoring that initiative, to be able to show that the goals and that the objectives that are ultimately trying to be achieved were or weren’t. And why and why not.
So, hopefully, that difference in the purpose and where the learnings emerge helps in terms of understanding the differences between program evaluation and research.
If there are no other questions I’ll just go on for a moment because we’ll have Q&A peppered throughout this webinar. So, there’ll be other opportunities to have your questions answered so make sure to continue to use the question function. In keeping with the purpose of this webinar, the other piece that we want to do is to outline the different paths to program evaluation and just the field overall. I’m actually turning things over to Alyssa for a moment and allow her to introduce her role to The Rucks Group and how she came to program evaluation.
Thank you, Lana. As Lana said, I am just going to touch a little bit on my role at The Rucks Group as a Research Associate. And then I’ll describe a little bit about what my career trajectory looked like in getting to this point as an example of how you might get to work in your program evaluation. So as a Research Associate, my primary task is working with data. It’s really sequential in my responsibilities and typically what that starts off as is engaging in data gathering. As Lana mentioned previously, this can take the form of survey dissemination, focus group and interview facilitation, and some of those methods that allow us to get feedback about certain programs. Once that data has been collected, my next task typically is to develop and manage databases for projects. So in this regard, data that we collect usually is not in a format that allows us to analyze it right off the bat. So, my task is to organize, format, and categorize things in a way that allows analyzes later down the road. So once that’s done, I can perform statistical analyses on those data. And typically, what that looks like, is I most commonly look at central tendencies in the data, I look at frequency distributions, as well as statistical analyzes, like T-test and ANOVAs, to look for statistically significant relationships between variables. So those pieces of data are very important in our reporting out, and once I have those analyzes complete, I can then move on to creating data visualizations, such as charge and schools, to be able to effectively communicate our findings to our clients who often then communicate that with their stakeholders as well.
I’ll tell you that in my career trajectory I took a little bit of a different approach getting here. So, let’s just dive a little bit into the key steps that got me to where I am as a Research Associate. So, going back to my undergraduate experience, I graduated with a bachelor’s from Ohio Wesleyan University in 2017 and my major was in Zoology, and I had a minor in psychology as well. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do for my career, as a student, but I knew that I was really interested in science, specifically biology. I also found, after I took an intro to psychology course, that I was very interested in psychology, as well. So that was kind of my thought process in choosing that major and minor. Immediately after graduation, I started as an intern at Five Rivers MetroParks. I was a conservation intern and my experiences during my undergraduate career up to this point where I started as an intern at Five Rivers, was mostly fieldwork, so was very much involved in kind of the biology side of things at this point, where I was doing plant surveys, dealing with invasive species, doing wildlife management, and that sort of thing.
And, moving forward from there, I decided to deviate just a little bit on and begin working as an education coordinator for the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery – this is the natural history and science museum here, in Dayton. And it wasn’t quite the fieldwork that I was experienced with before this point, but it allowed me to still stick within the sciences where I was really interested and allow me to educate the public, kids through adults, about topics that I was really passionate about. So, this was a really, really fun job and a really good way to kind of start of my official career. A couple of years into this, I decided that education was not really where I wanted my long-term trajectory. So, I decided to go back to school and earn a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and it’s called a Professional Science Master’s in Conservation Biology. So again, still very biology-focused which was very much my passion at this point. But the good thing about this program and even my undergraduate program is this concentration in biological sciences gave me a really strong quantitative background, specifically in statistics and in research methods. So, these two courses, as I’ll talk about later, have been really instrumental in getting the skills that I need to be successful in my job now.
So, as part of the program at Stout, I needed to complete a field experience. That led me to work as a seasonal technician for an environmental consulting firm. So, this was just the summer of 2020, and even though this was very similar to the work I had done in the field previously, it actually gave me a little bit different perspective because this was a private-sector job and I had only worked in non-profit and government sectors. So, this is really the first time I got a feel for working alongside clients to meet goals that they set, but also just kind of interacting with them and managing projects that they kind of laid out together. And then, my last and the most recent move was the following spring, the spring of this year, when I started working as a Research Associate here at The Rucks Group. I did a little digging into what I was interested in and decided that the data analysis and statistics portion of things is what I really enjoy doing and that’s why I started looking for positions like the one I’m in now.
So like I said, this is a little bit of an unconventional kind of path to get here, but among all of these different positions and experiences, I have had some influential experiences out of those that gave me the tools that I needed to be successful in this role. The first one, I actually didn’t mention in my previous slide, is that I worked as a student employee for career services at Ohio Wesleyan. This was technically my first job and it was a really, really perfect fit to give me a foundation, and some of those professional skills that you need to just do thoughtful work wherever you go. So, I got to work alongside counselors too that were teaching students how to do that anyway, so I was able to work on my effective communication skills and my networking skills, especially with employers and alumni. were really important and have allowed me to kind of build upon skills of working with clients and even collaborating internally.
The next experience I wanted to touch on was as a conservation intern and this was really my first experience within database management. Up until this point, the experience I had was really only in my coursework and like biology labs, and that sort of thing. So, at Five Rivers, I was able to manage a volunteer program with over 400 participants, and I collected data and analyzed those data to report back to the agency to summarize how the program had gone for that. So, this was a really important, kind of pivotal moment for me to get this experience, and this is something that I pull experience from even today and has kind of served as the foundation to my database analytical skills.
And then, as I kind of mentioned earlier, as well, my undergrad and graduate courses provided a very strong analytical and quantitative background for me. So, utilizing some of those, like, statistics, courses, research, research, methods, and going a little bit beyond those introductory classes, was really helpful in getting a firm understanding of those topics so that I could later serve as someone that actually analyzes data for a living.
And then, lastly, working as a museum educator for the museum allowed me to see the flip side of what we work with here. So, now that I’m on the evaluation side but back then, I was more on the side of actually actively working within STEM education. So, that gives me a little bit of perspective of what our clients are dealing with and are often within STEM or education fields trying to accomplish certain goals and initiatives. And this was also actually a way for me to start working a little bit in program evaluation because we often took in data from people that participated in our education programs, and we analyze that to see how we could act on it and improve. And that’s really kind of the focus of what we’re helping others to do here.
So just to kind of summarize, there have been kind of three key takeaways that I have experienced from my career and academic background that I wanted to pass along to you, especially for those who may not know what they want to do yet. So, the first one is taking advantage of opportunities to learn skills in computer software and do data analysis. These skills are one of the most highly desirable skills right now to employers and I can’t stress enough how helpful they are if you want to keep your options open and be able to wear multiple hats. These skills are transferable almost no matter where you are. Whether you want to do program evaluation or maybe you’re in the sciences or want to do medicine. All of those are fields that are going to be thought really highly of those kinds of evaluation skills. Also, I know in my role currently I use SPSS and Microsoft office the most. But R is really good software to learn as is coding languages, GIS, take all of the opportunities to be able to learn those – those will be really beneficial. My next point is a little similar, and that is just to broaden your education and skill set as much as possible. So even for me, when I said took on the psychology minor, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with it or if I was going to use that at all. But I was interested in it, decided to pursue it, and I’m glad that I did at this point, because now that gives me contacts into some of the fields, and might even my colleagues on social science backgrounds. And so, I have a little bit more context and understanding of some of those topics that we actively used within this field, and I’m really glad that I pursued that. So, it could be diversifying your coursework, or even just looking for informal ways to diversify as well, such as LinkedIn Learning, YouTube tutorials, and other online courses that you can do in your own time if you don’t have time to add those into your schedule academically.
The last tidbit that I just want to provide is to not be afraid to change your career trajectory. Even up until a year and a half ago, I thought I was still on one path working in land management and biology. It’s a little bit scary and a little bit intimidating to decide, like, you know, “this is actually not what I thought, this isn’t as good of a fit for me like I thought it would be”. I’ve made the leap and I’m really, really glad that I did. So, at any point in your academic or professional career, if you find that it’s not a good fit for you anymore, don’t be afraid to change it up. That’s also kind of why I recommend broadening your skillset so that you have the avenues to do other things outside the path you thought you’d be going. Thank you so much. And I’ll pass it on to Lana and I’ll be happy to take any questions.
Great, thanks, Alyssa for sharing your background and those are some really great points in terms of what you’ve learned. So yes, Alyce, are there any questions?
“What skills that have been useful to you in your current position of those? What did you have to learn on your own, versus when did you have to get further education?”
That’s a great question. So, I actually do a lot of learning on my own, especially for this role, because even though my background is very strong and I possess key traits that you needed to have to be successful in this role, there were still some things that I needed to kind of catch up on that didn’t have previous experience with. And some of those things, are like how I’ve been looking into effective data visualization which is really important. And there are so many good resources out there. I know that we use a website called Stephanie Evergreen, and she does a really good job at explaining different ways that you can communicate data, but also how to communicate it in a way that’s quick and effective. So, I think data visualization is really important because there are always more creative and effective ways to represent data. So, be in a position where you can be flexible and offer new ways of communicating because this is a really important skill. There are also other things, too, like Power Query in Excel. How that can help you is instead of having these minute, little tasks, you’ll be doing big things all at once which saves on time and efficiency. Look into some of those more specific components of data analytics, because the more you have of those, even just introductory backgrounds, it will be more helpful and beneficial to future employers.
Great, thank you for that really great question, and continue to ask them! We’re going to go on and let Julia share her background and what she does with The Rucks Group, but we will make sure to answer all your questions, at the end, as well. So, make sure they keep coming and Julia, let me turn things over to you.
Thanks, Lana. Again, my name is Julia Siwierka and I’m Director of Research and Evaluation Services. So, to give a brief overview of what this role includes I want to share out some of the main responsibilities of that role. So, the first overarching task, and really primary task, is that I have is to provide intellectual direction to the projects that we have. So, this means working with the research and evaluation team to make sure that we are sharing insights with each other, and from previous projects that we’ve worked on, to leverage the best practices and, again, lessons that we’ve learned, to make sure that we are providing the best advice possible to our clients and to make sure that we are pivoting when we need to, and that we are really thinking are planned out in advance. Another main task is facilitating client management, which I view as connected to two other bullet points here, as well. So, guiding adherence to our developed processes and ensuring the quality of our deliverables and monitoring our timelines.
So, when I’m talking about deliverables, I’m talking about surveys or interviews, or focus group protocol that we are creating, as well as reports and presentations of data as well. I will engage with clients and our evaluation team at key points throughout the process of an evaluation to make sure that everyone’s expectations are aligned and that we have agreement in terms of what is going to be produced, when, and to ensure that we are staying on track. And, lastly, I think that my last main responsibility that I wanted to highlight is supporting employees’ professional development. I engaged with the research and evaluation team on a continual basis to identify what topics or other areas where additional training, workshops, and other sorts of resources could be useful to make sure that we’re all continuously improving. And that we’re all continuously growing in our roles.
So, when I think about my own career trajectory, I think about my undergraduate experience. I went to Dominican University, which is a small institution in the Chicago suburbs, and I majored in psychology and theater arts. And so, at this point in time, those might seem like two disparate fields, but I’ll share in a few moments how they actually complemented each other for my own experience. A little bit after I got my bachelor’s degree, I went on to get a master’s and a Ph.D. from Wichita State University. And those degrees were in a field called community psychology. And as a very quick primer, community psychology focuses on how different levels of society interact with and impacting on one another. So, how are individuals, institutions, organizations, policies, governments, or even cultures all engaging with one another and changing in this dynamic system to create change? When I was in my degree programs at Wichita State, this is where I really started to hone in on program evaluation knowledge and skills. So, my first main professional experience that I wanted to share was as a Program Evaluator for the Boys and Girls Clubs of South, Central Kansas. In this role, I coordinated all of the evaluation activities for over 1200 youth that was being served by the clubs. This involved developing the survey instruments, creating focus group protocol with parents, doing the analyses, creating the reports, and then sharing out the reports with the funders as well. This experience really deepened my love and appreciation for program evaluation, especially in the context of youth development and ways to support education.
I also had a variety of other experiences when I was in grad school, where I was a grant writer for one organization. I also had experience in program development, community building, and other applied research opportunities that really strengthened my understanding of what it takes to develop and then implement a program, and then to see it all the way through on the evaluation side. After I finished with my Ph.D., I then spent some time at the Community Engagement Institute, which is an organization affiliated with Wichita State University. In this role, I worked on a federally funded grant that was with the Kansas Systems of Care and this was funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA. In 20 19, I joined The Rucks Group. I was actually in a different role as a research and evaluation associate, and then over the last year, I’ve transitioned into my current role.
So, I know that my career trajectory focuses a lot on some of the graduate school years and post-graduate school years, but when I think back on influential experiences from undergrad, there are a few that come to mind as well. The first is gaining applied research experience. In my junior and senior years of college, I worked with a professor in the psychology department to work on some of the research that she was conducting. One of the tasks that I learned through that research experience was how to analyze qualitative data that was previously collected before I joined, but then I also worked with her to create our own research and conduct this research on campus, and then share out the research findings at symposia and in training for student leaders. So, we were not only collecting the data and analyzing, but then we were sharing out what the impacts were or what the findings were to potentially create change on campus. And that was such an influential experience for me because I was understanding for the very first time, that research doesn’t have to live within a lab setting or it doesn’t have to sit within this context of introspection. You can use research to create change, and so that was a big aha moment for me.
I also previously mentioned that I was a theater major and so being a theater major, and in particular, I was really focused in on that performance aspect. I actually attribute a lot of my professional skills and communication skills to being a theater major. I am usually a very shy person and so being onstage in front of other individuals and in front of larger audiences provided additional skills for me to get out of my comfort zone a little more and practice public speaking. In fact, there was a student organization that was a part of where I helped non-theater students use monologs as a way to learn public speaking principles. I think that was a fun experience to try to share some of that knowledge and my own experience with others as well. But then on the flip side, I also spent quite a bit of time behind the scenes. So, I was on staff as part of our theater’s front-of-house staff and then I was stage manager and director for some of our university’s shows, as well as for some local theater companies, too. I think that those experiences are behind the scenes, which gave me a better understanding of time management because, for the theater, you have to be down to the second to hit certain cues. And so, I think that I gained a much better appreciation for using time efficiently and staying focused. I think that I also continued to enhance my communication skills, giving clear directions, as well as having a clear mind for customer service.
Another experience that I didn’t highlight on my career trajectory but is very influential in terms of my path to program evaluation, was the AmeriCorps year that I spent after college. I was working at an English As a Second Language school, where I was teaching job and computer skills to immigrant women. This role really helped me to understand the importance and really highlight the value of education but also to understand better the role that evaluation has for projects and for grant-funded initiative – so, having that level of accountability to, not only the funder but then also to those that are impacted by a grant and also having that level of accountability, as well as opportunities for feedback for improvement purposes.
When I think about some of the lessons that I’ve learned over time, there are some pieces of advice that I would give to a younger, different Julia, or to others that are trying to figure out where their paths are. The first is, similarly to something that Alyssa mentioned, which is taking as many statistics and research methods, classes as possible. Having the opportunities to take quantitative research methods and qualitative classes, are really beneficial for understanding that mixed methods perspective. Also, having a basis of data literacy is also helpful for any career path that you go down, but is also helpful just being a part of this society that we’re in, that is very data-driven and information-driven, too. Additionally, I would recommend participating in experiential learning opportunities when you’re in college as well. When I was in college, I had a lot of on-campus jobs. Those jobs served me well, certainly, but I do wish that I would have engaged in more experiential opportunities, like internships, co-ops, informational learning, or job shadowing so that I would have a better idea of what my interests were and what career paths were available to me because I wasn’t entirely sure what options were available to me as a psychology and theater major. So, I wish that I would have participated in these experiences to also deepen my own professional skills a little bit quicker.
Related to that, I would also say to enroll in classes in a variety of departments and disciplines. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do. And I thought, for a little bit of time that I was going to stay in theater as a career, so I think I really limited myself to psychology and theater classes. In hindsight, I wish that I would’ve taken classes in sociology or anthropology, business, the arts, or other sorts of humanities courses so that I could, again, better understand what my passions were, and to also be able to have a better basis of knowledge and skills that I could draw upon throughout career. I think, too, that this strategy of enrolling in diverse classes will help you to expand and follow your own curiosity as well. Overall, I think that I have been very excited about the careers and the jobs that I’ve had over time. And they’ve all led me to this position that I’m in now. I am always happy to talk about what options are available for folks, and I also look forward to hearing any questions that people have.
Thanks, Julia. It’s always so much fun to hear your background and the experiences that you had. Alyce, are there any questions for Julia?
“How are you able to identify research opportunities on campus as an undergraduate student?”
That’s a very good question, and it does sometimes vary by the institution that you’re at. My first bet would be to take a look at your college’s website to see if there is some sort of research offices like A student research Office or a student internship office, and perhaps even financial aid that lists out scholarships or research. But I think that the best place would be to talk to any faculty that you’ve taken a class with and whose class you’ve really enjoyed that class or that you think that their approach is very unique and very interesting. If that professor doesn’t have research opportunities available at that time, they will likely be able to direct you to other faculty members, either in that same department or a different department, who might have research opportunities that are aligned with what you might be interested in.
Alright, great, thanks, Julia. We’ll have another Q&A segment before we wrap up. So, again, make sure to keep asking your questions, but I’m going to go ahead and get started and talk a bit about my role with The Rucks Group and how I got here.
So, I am the Principal Consultant with The Rucks Group, and what I’m going to share is really where my work is at this point. I’ve done a lot of the work that Alyssa has shared and that Julia, this shared as well, so what I’m going to tell you about is what I’m primarily responsible for at this point in time and as the firm continues to grow. I think for all of us if you talk to us about a year or two years later, the roles will change slightly.
So, what is it that I do? One piece I’m responsible for is really articulating out the firm’s strategic vision and ensuring organizational alignment – Where is it that we’re headed? What is it that we’re trying to do? And then how, as an organization, do we make sure that we have the items in place to be able to achieve that? So, I work with an advisory board to help get their input, Julia, who’s in the leadership position, helps with her input, and then also we just have quarterly team meetings, so I can get feedback from the entire team on how the best to be able to accomplish that goal. The other piece of them responsible for is really intentionally developing relationships with potential clients who would like to work with us we really see the benefit in how we approach the work. Also, in terms of having conversations with potential employees. And I also often have conversations with individuals who have learned about program evaluation later within their careers who want to know, “how do I make that transition? what is it that you do?” So, I engage in those conversations, as well as talking to individuals with different organizations that may make sense for us to be able to partner with.
Another piece I’m responsible for is in terms of managing the firm’s daily operations. And you can almost think about daily operations in two ways – in terms of the client management, which is what Julia really is responsible for, and terms of the daily administrative operations. I work with an administrative assistant to be able to make sure that we are meeting regulations and other things related to executing a business such as making sure that people are getting paid and that we’re getting money in. All those components are just inherent in running a business. Then also, the other piece I’m responsible for is in regard to working with Julia and the team to identify training needs and to actually create those training modules. So, as I share my career trajectory, you’ll be able to see where my experiences come from and how it’s helped me to be able to do all that.
In the spirit of what other individuals have shared, I think my career in some ways started at Ohio Wesleyan University. I am a fellow “battling Bishop”, like Alyssa and I graduated from Ohio Wesleyan in 1995 with a major in psychology and a concentration in Chemistry. I took a lot of natural and physical science courses, partly because at that time I was really interested in pursuing medicine as a career, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do right after graduating. So, I was trying to figure out with these different types of experiences, what is it that I can do in terms of a job? Well, it turns out that I was well qualified for pharmaceutical sales. I ended up at Merck and Company as a pharmaceutical representative working in the eastern side of Columbus which touched on the urban part of Columbus all the way out to Amish country, and this was really just a great experience to have. It was really just fun to be able to get to know individuals and the doctors from different communities, like the Amish community and things of that nature. And so, it was really great to have that exposure through that representative role. And then I was promoted as well. So, I went in-house, which was in Philadelphia, and was part of a four-person team in which we trained new hires that joined as sales representatives for Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. So, I took a lot of courses or training internally on how to be a trainer and really how to effectively convey information to individuals.
So that was a really great experience, but as one person shared with me, in terms of when I described what I was going through, they said I had a mid-life crisis in my twenties, and I had realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So, I had to make some decisions on what I was going to do next, realizing that medicine wasn’t really what I thought it was. Ultimately, I decided to go to the University of Dayton and work on my master’s degree in experimental psychology. I wanted to eventually work on the doctorate degree but had recently gotten married and had a child, so when they finished with my master’s degree, I actually taught at Sinclair Community College for a year, which was really a great experience. I really loved working with students who had life experience and enjoyed working with them as they grappled with reconciling what I was teaching them with their own life experiences. And then also, what’s really interesting, some people talk about community colleges, is the largest graduate school program in America and in some ways, even though that slightly tongue-in-cheek, there’s some truth to it. So many of my students there were coming back to take courses because they had experiences where they started off on one trajectory and realized it wasn’t what they want it. I had a significant number of students who had an undergrad degree, if not a graduate degree, and were coming back to pursue a different discipline.
After that, I was able to go onto The Ohio State University, where I earned my master’s degree, and a doctorate in social psychology, with a minor in quantitative methods. While I was at Ohio State, I did do some consulting work on the side. And decided that that was really where I wanted to focus my efforts full-time, so when I graduated in 2008, I started The Rucks Group.
So, let me tell you a little bit about some of my influential experiences. Some of the items I’m going to highlight are some of the themes that have emerged already. I interned at Kaiser Permanente – I’m originally from the Cleveland area and was able to intern in their HR department right after my freshman year at Ohio Wesleyan. What was most impactful for me from that experience was really learning how to be a self-learner. When they first started, they gave me a box that contains a floppy disk (yes, a floppy disk, to what was then PageMaker, a precursor to what we may know as Publisher or Canva), and they said, “You need to learn this”. It was the first time that I had to learn in an environment where I did not have someone around me who knew more than what I knew. I really had to figure it out and then later had to teach other individuals around me what I had learned. In a similar way, I think I’ve been able to have a lot of research experiences and really be able to just become a self-learner through these various research experiences. I was able to be part of her research opportunity at Davidson College and I was completing, and behavioral neuroscience research, in the lab, at Julio Ramirez’s lab at Davidson and I was able to work with rats and training rats on how to complete a y-maze. The fun part was that I had to gentle the rats when they first came into the lab and let them crawl over me so that they got used to human touch. I also was able to use some of the knowledge I gained in my intro neuroscience and physiological psychology courses, and how to actually complete surgeries on rats as well. And then, also, some other research opportunities where I was able to, actually, work with an advisor and develop and pursue some research questions that were of interest to me, as well.
Then, finally, my experiences at Merck and Company were just really defining on so many levels – I really can’t even share the depth to which that experience just had a profound impact on me. But I do think, again, in this theme of being a self-learner, one piece that was really lasting was really learning how to learn. When you started as a sales rep, at Merck, you go through what’s affectionately called “Merck Medical School”, which is 10 weeks of intensive learning on the variety of different diseases and the related medicines. Over that time, you probably are conceding the least 15 tests, and you need to pass, all of them, only failing three, otherwise, you lose your job, and keeping in mind that feeling was considered less than 90%. So, you really had to learn how to learn and, and really learn some intricate information to make sure that you’re passing those exams.
So, what I would pass on are things that have already been shared. Take as many different courses as you can. The other piece that I would say is that when you have an experience, really debrief at the conceptual level, what you enjoyed and did not enjoy. So, I wanted to go into medicine, I thought, but I changed course trajectory, and I really had to think about what it about medicine was that I was gravitating towards and what is it that I didn’t enjoy. Then also, I think what’s really important is to just take advantage of experiences simply because they’re interesting. Some things you’ll never know at this point where it’s going to be applicable and that’s okay. If it’s something that you say, “I’d like to know more about that”, then I would encourage you to pursue it. So, it’s a little bit about what I’ve learned in my background, so I’ll pause there for a question.
Do you recommend gaining knowledge or experience in a specific topic area, or is having the hard skills and the data experience more important?
So, in terms of a particular topic area, my short answer is yes. But, and I’m wondering if, you know, you mean like, within like, non-profit, or stem, or things of that nature. I think you definitely want to be able to have that type of experience. I do think, in terms of some of the “hard skills”, like how do you design an experimental study or a quasi-experimental study, you’re going to need that too. You really want to be able to find ways to advance both of those.
What are the fundamentals? What’s the book knowledge? And then, what does that look like in terms of applying it? I don’t think that the learning process is really about one or the other, it’s about creating space in time for, both, for those to be able to mature and grow and advance together. So, hopefully, that answers your, your question.
And I know that we’re starting to get a little short on time, and there are probably are still more questions. So, what I’m going to do at this point is to go ahead and talk about our fellowship and internship opportunity. We’ll answer additional questions until one o’clock. At one o’clock, to be respectful of your time, please feel free to jump off, but the panelists and I are going to stay on and continue to answer questions. We will continue to record that information and make that recording available to you. You’ll get an e-mail after this, with the recording, and it will also be available on our website.
So let me talk about our research opportunity here. So, we actually have a pretty deep history, in terms of internships. We’ve had interns come through at some point for the last five years and that’s been primarily offered to undergrad students – we haven’t really offered that to grad students. Regardless, the intent is really to try to provide professional experience and applied social science research. So, what we’re adding now is this opportunity to graduate or master level students to be able to also come and have some experience and in many ways, kind of reflects the question that was just asked about trying to take what you learned in terms of your book knowledge and then purify it within a real-world context.
So, the work that you would be doing is slightly adapted to the skill and experience level of the intern and fellow through initial conversations. Through the experience, we expect it to be a 10-week, summer experience where we’ll figure out what would be some really good types of work and tasks for you to be exposed to, to be able to complement what you’re learning in your program. And then also, there’s that informal learning piece as well, where there’s mentorship that you can engage in as well, beyond just the tasks that are being completed. In terms of the location, right now we expect it to be hybrid, slightly at our offices at times and also in remote, but that’s also slightly subject to change as the situation with the COVID pandemic is constantly evolving as well. If you want to know more about the internship and fellowship and to apply, just know that the applications are due by January 28th, and they are available on our website. If you go to our website, go to the about page and scroll all the way to the bottom, and you will be able to open up a PDF that will describe the Internship and Fellowship, and also, we’ll provide a link to the actual application. If you have questions as you’re completing that application, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at email@example.com. I would also encourage you to visit our website for our webinars and look at the recordings, and you would be able to learn more about what program evaluation is if you look over that information.
So, I’m going to stop there and allow us to answer questions, and I will say that we’re officially done and thank you for coming in and joining us today, But we will continue and answer all the questions, and this will be available in recording, So. Thank you, and I hope you have a great rest of the day.