Insights of the Moment

HEI staff members share what we’re contemplating this month. We welcome your ideas to consider for next month!

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

Tashera Gale, Director of Evaluation Services
Ratchetdemic: Reimagining Academic Success by Dr. Christopher Emdin
INSIGHT: “Though only a few pages in, the little Black girl in me feels a deep sense of empowerment, inspiration, and affirmation that my identities—professional and cultural—can co-exist, though structural norms have always dictated otherwise. Being both provocative and an act of resistance to mainstream thought, this educational reframing can aid in demonstrating the interconnectedness between the ivory tower and urban classrooms if only success is reimagined.”

Kelly Krupa Rifelj, Assistant Research Analyst
“Moving Beyond Free: A College Affordability Compact for the Next Generation” – The Third Way
INSIGHT: “The Free College movement often puts equity at the center of the discussion by noting free college for all means students in the highest income bracket often receive the biggest benefit. Moreover, what students in lower income brackets also need is support beyond tuition (e.g., housing, food assistance, etc.). In this recent article, the authors go a step further by noting that the students who never go to college do not even have this smaller benefit (i.e., small tuition assistance with the leftover funds able to be used for some living expenses). While in some ways, that’s obvious, they also suggest pairing college affordability with changes in The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to support workers who lack the support even modest grants provide.”

Tait Kellogg, PhD, Director of Research & Strategic Services
“We Need to End Structural Racism and Inequities. How Can Data and Evidence Help?” – Project Evident
INSIGHT: “I’m always seeking new resources related to how data can be utilized as a tool for equity. This is worth a look.”

Donté  McGuire, Research Analyst
Returning to Campus and Competing Priorities for Decision-makers (no link)
INSIGHT: “Perhaps like most people, I have been thinking a lot about what it means for colleges and universities to welcome students back to campus this fall amid the current COVID pandemic. There are so many difficult decisions that institutional leaders, staff, faculty, students, and their families are having to make—decisions that seem to be made more difficult by the competing priorities of the institution’s traditional financial and education model and community health and safety.”


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.


Client Spotlight: Eureka Scientific and ICWIP 2021

This summer, HEI was proud to support the 2021 International Conference on Women in Physics (ICWIP) of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP). The conference is organized by IUPAP’s Working Group 5, which was established in 1999 to regularly survey and make recommendations to improve the situation for women in physics. Our friends at Eureka Scientific brought HEI on board to help facilitate meaningful group connection and learning during the conference’s workshop sessions.

Photo by Omar Gattis on Unsplash

ICWIP has traditionally been held every three years at a different location around the world. The 2020 conference, scheduled to be held in Melbourne, Australia, was delayed one year and moved to a virtual setting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was organized in partnership with several organizations within the host country, including the Australian Institute of Physics (AIP) and all Australian Physics Departments, Australian Research Council Centres of Excellences, Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Defence Science and Technology Group (DST), Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), National Measurement Institute (NMI), the Australian Academy of Science, and Academy of Technology and Engineering.

The conference featured a robust agenda from Sunday, July 11, to Friday, July 16, including poster sessions and plenaries on a range of topics such as “Men as Allies” and what IUPAP is doing to address gender issues. The conference also offered networking, mentoring sessions, and opportunities to experience the culture of Australia, such as a class on the Djirri Djirri dance of the Wurundjeri people and a virtual viewing of the largest Little Penguin colony in the world.

The conference also featured several workshops, which allowed attendees to dive deep into select topics and engage with colleagues from around the world. HEI was proud to facilitate these workshops and help to choreograph them to ensure an engaging and meaningful experience for all involved. Workshop topics included:

  • Physics Education
  • Data Professionalism
  • Understanding Intersectionality
  • Women in Physics in Developing Countries
  • Becoming a Leader in Entrepreneurship. 

HEI is grateful for the opportunity to have supported this important convening of extraordinary women physicists!


3 Strategies for Impactful Online Workshops

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Our team at HEI is forever hungry to deepen our skill sets in organizational and collective learning. Nothing gets us more excited than a meaningful exchange with colleagues and clients that results in a fresh “aha moment” or an insight that leads to new strategies, stronger decision-making, and more effective action. This is truly the common denominator to all of the research and evaluation work we do with foundations, community-based organizations, and institutions of higher education.

As much of our collective learning endeavors have moved online since the COVID-19 pandemic—and as we foresee many staying virtual—our team of researchers and facilitators have honed several strategies and tactics for ensuring an online workshop is engaging, dynamic, and impactful. We share three of our favorites below and would love to hear your thoughts!

Strategy #1: Set the stage.

Help your participants feel psychologically safe, clear on expectations, and focused on intended outcomes by setting the stage for your workshop appropriately. Without clear ground rules, participants are less likely to end up feeling successful at the end of your workshop.

You can accomplish this in a handful of ways. Three of our favorites are: 

  • Assigning pre-work, such as a brief reading, a video to watch, or a reflection/brainstorming exercise. This helps to prime your participant for the ideas and concepts you’ll engage, plus it engenders investment in your workshop before you’ve even opened your Zoom room. 
  • Setting expectations in pre-event communications that the event will be interactive and that cameras should be on to allow for purposeful engagement.
  • Opening your workshop with an exercise that helps participants connect to both one another and to the core reason they are attending. Put another way, connect them to the who (the human or communal facet of your convening) and the why (the motivator). This could be as simple as giving them a few minutes to individually reflect on why they’re attending or what is important to them about the workshop topic and then dividing them into groups of two or three to share their “whys” with fellow participants. Again, this helps increase investment in the workshop’s outcomes—plus it helps participants feel more connected to one another and the space you’re co-creating together.

Strategy #2: Create space for active learning.

Help your participants to identify what they want to learn, facilitate that learning, and create space for them to reflect on that learning further. The days of the passive (and rather boring) “webinar 1.0” are over, where an expert or panel of experts speak at a group of online participants and then answer some questions at the end. Instead, we now know it is possible—and exponentially more effective—to facilitate an active online learning experience in which participants can absorb, reflect on, even create, and actively engage new ideas with partners, workshop leaders, and the group as a whole. This can be accomplished through a wide range of activities, such as 1:1 and small group breakout rooms with a structured learning prompt or activity; large group connection exercises designed to cull the wisdom of the group and elevate the input of all attendees (not just a few leaders or the loudest voices); and individual reflection time, guided and shaped by questions that invite creative thinking and introspection.

Strategy #3: Maximize your planning time.

It can be tempting to fall into the trap of thinking that all the magic happens at “go-time”—that it’s all about your performance during an actual event. And while your ability to be present, engaged, and adaptive during your workshop is essential, the real magic lies in your preparation. Have you spent time to design, choreograph, and even script each minute of your workshop for maximum impact, clarity, and flow? Have you worked with your event partners and colleagues to run through everyone’s roles, transitions from one activity to the next, instructions to your participants, and all the tech needed to make the experience smooth? If you maximize your planning time by scheduling several sessions to prepare—each with strategic objectives and agendas—your participants will be all the better served.


What other strategies have you found effective? Where have you encountered challenges or obstacles? Please reach out to us with any learnings or questions—we’d always love to connect and help you solve your online event conundrums!



Client Spotlight: SIUE GEOPATHS

art boiling eruption fog
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This month, we highlight the work of the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIUE) STEM Center’s GEOPATHS Scholars program, for which HEI serves as an evaluator. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and in collaboration with the SIUE departments of geography and environmental sciences, the program aims to increase recruitment, retention, and graduation of historically underrepresented students in environmental geoscience fields through extracurricular learning experiences. These experiences help to increase geoscience career awareness and pursuit among science-interested students in their first two years of college.

In the GEOPATHS program, student scholars learn through fieldwork and other experiences how the work of geoscientists supports community health, safety, resilience, and sustainability. In addition to working with faculty members during. the academic year, they also have the opportunity to go on two summer field trips: the “Storm Chasers” trip and the “Western National Parks” excursion. The “Storm Chasers” experience starts with training in forecasting severe storms, storm hazards, and minimizing the risk to the observer. Then faculty members and graduate assistants lead the scholars on a seven-day field trip across nine states to experience the physical processes learned in the training. For the Western National Parks excursion, faculty members and graduate assistants lead visits to Devil’s Tower National Monument and the national parks of Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Great Sand Dunes. Students engage in field learning at unique geological sites, such as hydrothermal features in Yellowstone and hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, and learn to contribute to discussions about geo-conservation and geo-heritage.

For more information on the GEOPATHS Scholars programs, visit this SIUE STEM Center page.

HEI FYI, Uncategorized

Work Colleges and Learner-Focused Innovations in Higher Ed

black woman working on project in office
Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

By Tait Kellogg, PhD, Director of Research and Strategic Services

Higher education must change. The sector has been through a massive time of forced innovation, as the pandemic mandated that leaders pivot quickly and think creatively in response to the need to operate virtually. We must utilize this unique moment in history to continue to innovate towards reorienting higher education to become truly learner focused.

College was not designed for the new majority learners, including learners who have jobs, speak English as a second language, are parents, enroll later in life, are undocumented, were formerly incarcerated, and/or attend school part-time. Yet, these learners now make up the majority of enrolled students. They are also the most likely to be negatively impacted by the global COVID-19 crisis, as compared to their peers who have the financial support of family. Changing our institutions to become oriented around the new majority learners requires bold leadership.

Dr. Michael Sorrell offers an example of such innovative leadership, willing to take a leap for the sake of changing his institution to become authentically learner oriented. Dr. Sorrell recently served as the keynote speaker for the Woodward Hines Education Foundation’s (WHEF) IMPACT convening. The convening brought together leaders from across the public four-year postsecondary system in the state of Mississippi, oriented around WHEF’s IMPACT (Improving Mississippi’s Persistence and Completion Together) grant awarded to six institutions. Key to WHEF’s work (including with the IMPACT grant) is a focus on equity, including increasing college access and success opportunity for transfer students, low-income students, and particularly for Black and Brown students in the state.

Dr. Sorrell’s keynote speech drew from his own experience as the President of Paul Quinn College, a historically Black college in Dallas, Texas. He began his story with a bold message: “Be willing to change everything.” When Dr. Sorrell took the helm at Paul Quinn College, the institution was in a crisis that could have closed its doors, with only 30 days of cash left on hand. The college pivoted to become the first “Urban Working College,” an institutional model that requires students to work, offsetting the costs of tuition and fees. In order to move to this new, innovative model, Dr. Sorrell cut the football program. He ended the semester after Thanksgiving, recognizing that those final weeks of school in December were merely a burden for students who could not afford to travel home and come back for that short window. He ended classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that students could maintain employment during the week.

Core to Dr. Sorrell’s message was authenticity. As College President, he continues to teach several courses a year in order to stay connected to students and their stories at Paul Quinn College. What do students need from leaders? Dr. Sorrell’s message is that “students need you to be present, to fully see them and meet them where they are with no judgement.” He also encouraged leaders to tap into their authentic selves and be transparent with students about their own journeys. Higher education institution leaders and policymakers must “elevate the needs of students to make it evident that they are what we love.”

Dr. Sorrell challenged the higher education leaders of Mississippi to look at their own institutional and policies practices and ask, “What doors are you closing unintentionally? What practices build a bigger barrier for students?” As our society emerges to a new world following global pandemic closures, how can higher education push for a new era, one built on dismantling the barriers facing our new majority learners?


What We’re Reading…

HEI staff members share what we’re reading this month. We welcome your recommendations for next month!

books in black wooden book shelf
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Tait Kellogg, PhD, Director of Research & Strategic Services
“Understanding Rural Education Inequity” – The Ear (podcast) by Columbia Spectator
KEY TAKEAWAY: “Really enjoyed this Understanding Rural Education Inequity episode of this podcast put out by Columbia University, Teachers College (my alma mater). I find it important to hear about the challenges associated with coming into the Ivory Tower from a rural community.”

Donté  McGuire, Research Analyst
“Tricia Hersey on Rest as Resistance”
– For the Wild (podcast)
KEY TAKEAWAY: “I follow Tricia Hersey’s ‘The Nap Ministry’ on Instagram but recently listened to a podcast where she was interviewed about her work and ideology around rest as resistance. Some things I’m still reflecting on after just a first listen:

1) ‘Grind culture,’ that suggests our bodies are machines runs deep and in ways that I am not even aware. For example, I use the phrase ‘I don’t have the bandwidth for….’ In reality, I am trying to communicate much more than a computing or machine term can capture.

2) How this idea of treating our bodies/minds as machines primarily for production/being productive is directly tied to capitalism and the ways Black bodies were pushed to machine-like pace and disregarded since chattel slavery.

3) My refusal to rest, when I can, is aligning myself with capitalist culture. I get so much joy and fulfillment out of doing things—except resting :)—that I’ve never stopped to ask how much of this is due to being socialized in such a strong capitalist society, at least not recently. Lots of learning and unlearning to do…in time.”

Patricia Steele, PhD, Founder & Principal
The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, MD
KEY TAKEAWAY: “Given the state of trauma that many people are living in—from the isolation effects of the pandemic or illness or loss, or the racial justice challenges of the recent year, this book seems to me to be a good choice. The author talks about how trauma affects the mind, body, and the chemical makeup of the brain. Just a tiny hint of a threat then re-traumatizes individuals and leaves them in a constant state of vigilance. It’s no way to live and can lead to further isolation. Mentally and emotionally, trauma affects how survivors interact with people and the world around them. The author explores some unique and fascinating avenues of treatment to help past trauma subside in its power. It’s a worthy read.”


Staff Spotlight: John Archacki, Project Manager

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

As a Project Manager with HEI, John Archacki specializes in data collection, analysis, and reporting activities. His knowledge of a wide variety of survey techniques, analysis tools, and reporting methods are leveraged across HEI’s portfolio of clients. His project management and support experience are applied to various projects, including market research projects for colleges and universities, as well as program evaluations for grant projects funded by the NSF, USDOE, NYSED, and private foundations. Prior to joining HEI, Mr. Archacki worked as a Research Analyst for Hezel Associates doing a variety of work on program evaluations and planning projects, and prior to that as he worked as a Research Analyst at KS&R, Inc., doing market research for a variety of private sector industries. He was responsible for all aspects of research projects including client communications, research methodologies, data collection, analysis, report design, and presentations. He also consulted with clients to develop solutions to internal and customer-facing process issues such as help desk, training, change recommendations, privacy and disclosure notices, and functional business and design documentation needs.

What first drew you to work in higher education?

I transitioned to program evaluation after over 8 years doing market research. Evaluation gave me an opportunity to continue doing research beyond business and market oriented contexts.

How would you describe your current work?

A growing portion of my work has become in managing operational processes and procedures as our company grows and wrestles with how to assess our productivity and collaboration.

What gives you hope in the work you do?

Seeing the team grow and become more efficient, with each of us developing our own subject matter expertise.

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

One of the things that drew me to business administration and market research while in college was that helping organizations manage, and just do things better, is an important goal for me. Evaluation is the embodiment of those ideals, helping our clients through careful assessment and formative feedback to make their programs better than they would have been otherwise.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Always keep looking for ways to add value, find efficiencies, and streamline processes in everything you work on.


Making Data Meaningful: Education Design Lab

Making data meaningful: HEI formatted data profiles as Instagram slides to help make the data more widely accessible to local communities.

For any university or college, understanding local economic opportunity and the hopes and goals of community members is imperative for building responsive education programs that meet the needs of employers, learners, and workers. This is especially true for community colleges, who hold a vital community role in bridging offered degrees and certificates with employer demand for jobs. Yet, local economic data are rarely made highly accessible or presented in a creative way that is friendly to a wide audience. Economic projections and local demographic data usually come in the form of dense, hard-to-read reports full of line graphs.

At HEI, one of our favorite endeavors is to make data accessible for a wide audience. We’ve recently partnered with our client, Education Design Lab, to help them accomplish this goal for one cohort of their partner institutions. The Lab is an innovative organization that co-designs and builds equitable, learner-centered approaches with colleges, universities, employers, foundations, regions, and other partners. They kick off each of their design challenges with a series of “gallery walks,” bringing together a wide swath of local community leaders, learners, local media, and others around quantitative and qualitative data that paints a comprehensive picture of the experience of learners and the local community today. For their BRIDGES Rural design challenge, the Lab has brought together a cohort of rural community colleges across the nation to ask: How might we strengthen the capacity of rural community colleges to serve as critical economic growth engines for their learners and communities?

The Power of Infographics

To make economic data accessible to the audiences interested in the above question, HEI put together data profiles, formatted as Instagram slides. This accessible format made the data friendly to a wide audience and helped to inform the community about current demographics and future opportunities in the local area. Community colleges who were offered these data profiles learned more about what local populations they weren’t currently serving and how to tailor programs to meet potential learners where they are. “Our community college partners had never seen data put together in such a digestible, easy-to-understand format,” says Miriam Swords Kalk, Education Designer for BRIDGES, Education Design Lab. “It’s been a real game-changer for them to have access to such rich information about their local communities and surrounding regions to inform the design of new programs.”


Staff Spotlight: Elexus Robinson, Research Assistant

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

Elexus Robinson is a Research Assistant at Higher Ed Insight. Her previous work experiences include spearheading the national Bonner Leadership program at a public research university, reviewing program educational data to address the socio-emotional needs of military children, and learning to improve community initiatives among the youth and adult interactions at the National Center for the Prevention of Community Violence. Elexus’s approach to research is to foster communities and promote social agency that addresses educational and social concerns. As an educator, Elexus has taught courses on the practices of community engagement and civic identity; she encourages students in topics of social justice, evaluating the systemic consequences of community stakeholders and the use of relevant research data to address community concerns. Elexus received her BA in Sociology and Anthropology with a double minor in Human Rights & Conflict Resolutions and Dance from Christopher Newport University and her MA in Public Sociology from George Mason University.

What first drew you to work in higher education?

My sociology professors from my alma mater had a lot to do with my desire to work in higher education. I specifically wanted to be just like them and mentor and teach students while also conducting phenomenal research. I loved the passion they had for their work but also the mutual respect they had for each other. I wanted what they had, and I wanted to be a part of that. One professor, Dr. Johnny Finn, invited me to be a research assistant on a National Park Services research project at the Antietam National Battlefield that the entire department was collaborating on. The experience of writing with them, going out into the field with them, partnering with other students, and speaking/interviewing locals did wonders to this first-gen kid and I was like, oh yeah I want to do this for the rest of my life!

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

Any work that involves advancing Black culture, art, and history: I am all for it. Currently, I am involved or assist in projects that directly or indirectly advance the culture. For example, I am a part of a participatory action research (PAR) project that examines first-generation women of the African Diaspora’s experiences, and this research has become a space of healing, trust, and vulnerability. This work heavily involves mending the past, present, and the future, where a lot of my theoretical interests lie.  

In addition, I’m all for any work that allows me to apply a critical lens I am passionate about. My current work at HEI pertains to educational attainment, and I was shocked to learn how many resources are available for underserved communities. It was a lot more than I expected. Unfortunately, knowledge about said resources is unheard of in a majority of marginalized communities. For me, I’m motivated to continue the work by asking, how do we help students to be eligible and aware of the additional support available for them to pursue a higher education? How many dreams are deferred or not even cultivated due to guarded in-house knowledge or the lack of engagement by stakeholders? I love helping and interacting with student populations, particularly in higher education and the work I do at HEI reflects that.

What gives you hope in the work you do?

This work at times can be unforgiving or even draining on one’s faculties, so as a woman of faith and believing in and answering to a higher authority keeps me accountable not only to myself but to every person I come in contact with. My hope comes from a source that knows no end, so when I’m tapped out or if even the best of humanity is tapped out, I put my hope in God knowing that the good work we do will not be in vain.

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

What has been my favorite part so far about working at HEI would have to be the amount of learning I have gained in such a short time! I am a student by nature, and I am adamant about keeping myself mentally engaged and even challenged. HEI has provided me the space to learn a lot of practical and technical skills that is sometimes overlooked when going through the academy. HEI is definitely the home I would say that’s cultivating me to be a more well-rounded scholar and professional.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I really enjoy the work that I do and the opportunity it affords me to be compassionate and critical. It is such a privilege to practice what I love and I am so excited to be a part of the HEI team. I look forward to the awesome work that will come our way!