Loyola University Chicago

Department of Sociology

Whitney Rodriguez

Research and Evaluation Manager - College Possible

 

Whitney earned her MA in Sociology from LUC in 2012.

How you have been engaged professionally since your time at Loyola. What organizations have you worked with and in what capacities?

After I graduated in May 2012, I moved back to my home state of Minnesota to start a career in non-profit program evaluation. In my first career, I worked as the Data and Evaluation Manager for The Bridge for Youth, a homeless youth shelter in Minneapolis. I worked closely with program leaders to establish and build the organization’s capacity to systematically collect and use data to evaluate the programs and improve services. But, it wasn’t until I found my current job that I really felt and believed that I was making a difference in disrupting the social systems, power hierarchies, and educational inequalities that I learned about during my MA coursework in sociology.

In 2014, I started my new career as the Research and Evaluation Manager for College Possible, a national college access and success organization that helps low-income students get to and through college. I now manage a portfolio of five research and evaluation projects, including an RCT with Harvard, two quasi-experimental studies with the HOPE Lab at UW-Madison and CAREI at UMN-Twin Cities, and my very own Pre-Posttest study with the US Department of the Treasury! I also design and implement several internal evaluations to measure the impact of new pilot initiatives, track program outcomes, and identify trends. Each project reminds me of the complex social and economic barriers and injustice I encountered as a low-income first-generation college student myself, but this keeps me energized and focused on producing top quality research to help inform others of our progress towards educational equity.

 

How did your time at Loyola prepare you--both professionally and personally--for your eventual career trajectory?

The sociology department faculty were always accessible and supportive, though I tended to lean on just a few faculty members. Specifically, I worked closely with Dr. Moore and Dr. Figert as I worked to complete my thesis and independent study and research coursework. Their individualized attention and feedback helped me develop stronger writing and analytic skills, which are critical components of my job. Also, after starting a course led by Dr. Nyden, I learned more about the research opportunities at CURL and was invited to participate in some early planning meetings for a new program evaluation.

This experience was incredibly pivotal in launching me towards applied research, including my current career in program evaluation. Lastly, I looked for opportunities within the Loyola community to give-back and maximize my graduate school experiences. I participated in a mentoring role with the Achieving College Excellence (ACE) program, in partnership with the Graduate School, where I worked with a group of first-generation college students during their first year at Loyola. Together, these relationships and opportunities were so formative and became the foundation I needed to develop and build my professional skills, prepare for a career in applied research, and ultimately make meaningful contributions to my community and persistent social issues.

 

Looking back on it, have you any advice for current or prospective LUC grad students?

It is your responsibility to make the most of your graduate school experience, so be sure to set realistic goals that keep you on track for academic success and professional growth. For me, this involved setting a few key goals early on to ensure I found the right balance of intellectual and professional development. Looking back, I had a really positive experience in graduate school because I accomplished my goals: I gained a deeper understanding of sociological theory and concepts, expanded my professional network to include other graduate students and LUC faculty, and built a strong resume filled with meaningful and practical experiences that illustrate my interests and proficiencies. Find opportunities that will provide you with work-experience: work closely with a professor, get involved in a research project, or take on a leadership role with a student group. During my first year of graduate school, I wasn’t able to find a research opportunity at LUC and started to get discouraged. However, I started volunteering at the Adler Planetarium and was soon offered a paid position as a research assistant on an NSF grant.

Also, be thoughtful and intentional about your course selection—make sure these align with your career goals. For example, I choose to pursue more methods coursework and independent study as electives rather than the content-specific courses, because I wanted more training and experience designing research projects, creating and validating instruments, and analyzing data. Overall, use your graduate school experience as the starting point to develop and advance yourself as a young professional.