Staff Spotlight: Sylvia Otieno, Research Assistant

HEI invites you to get to know our fantastic staff members. Each month, we highlight a different colleague. This month, learn about Sylvia Otieno’s expertise and what drives her professionally.

Sylvia Otieno is a Research Assistant at Higher Ed Insight (HEI). Prior to joining HEI, Sylvia worked as a research consultant at the World Bank Independent Evaluation Group and served as an AmeriCorps VISTA Member. These experiences developed Sylvia’s interest in using evaluation research to help organizations make evidence-based decisions. She has a background in university housing, residence life, and student activities and is enthusiastic to bring those experiences to her research. Sylvia earned her BA in International Studies from Towson University and her MPA from The George Washington University.

What first drew you to work in higher education?

My own college experience drew me to this work. Throughout college, I was involved in everything, including student activities, housing and residence life (as a resident assistant), and the career center. This involvement exposed me to many aspects of higher ed. It also taught me the difference that higher ed can make in a student’s life when all of those aspects—like academia, student life, and career preparation—are working together to help students achieve their goals. This was true for me and I saw it happen for so many of my peers who were in the same space, resulting in both personal and professional growth to this day.

From that experience, I knew that higher education was something I’d like to be a part of. Through HEI, I’ve been able to reconnect to this interest and engage it from a new angle.

How would you describe your current work/the work you’re most passionate about?

I’m passionate about helping people and organizations think through what they’re doing and how to do it better—particularly, in the context of higher ed: how can we ensure that what we’re doing actually works and addresses what is needed? How do we develop and implement programs and policies well?

What excites me in particular about my role at HEI is the opportunity to help clients to address these questions. I enjoy working with our clients to identify how we can assist them to collect data and draw insights that will inform their work.

What gives you hope in the work you do?

Seeing my colleagues’ and our clients’ commitment and determination to the work gives me hope. For example, it’s inspirational to see our clients implementing innovative programs that address students’ needs. It’s encouraging to see how much thought goes into it—and that they’re always looking to learn and iterate to ensure that they are serving the community well.  

What is your favorite part of working at HEI and with HEI’s clients?

We have great clients. I love seeing the innovation happening across their work and the ways they’re approaching some really big challenges. It’s been especially rewarding to see how they’ve responded to the challenges of COVID-19, which has been an unexpected force for all the projects I’ve worked on so far. Seeing how our clients have pivoted their work, moved forward, adjusted their goals, and innovated has been another source of inspiration and hope.

I also value being a part of helping our clients think through how to innovate and structure their responses to best deal with challenges like COVID, or anything else that may come down the road.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

It’s been a great experience so far working with the HEI team and our clients. It’s both interesting and inspiring to see what our clients are doing and an honor to support them. I also value that our little piece of work has the potential to have an impact and hopefully ensure that students today have a similarly enriching and meaningful experience as I did in college.