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

Sylvia Otieno, Research Assistant
Education Design Lab BRIDGES Rural Cohort VIDEO
INSIGHT: “Rural community colleges serve as the backbone for postsecondary education and are economic drivers of small communities across the United States. This summer, we joined the Education Design Lab BRIDGES cohort in Bangor, Maine, to design programs that create new pathways to postsecondary attainment and economic opportunity in rural communities. My colleague Tait Kellogg kicks off this video highlighting the convening and EDL’s innovative approach to designing programs for rural learners.”

Kate Potterfield, Communications and Marketing Director
“An Asset-Based Approach to Understanding College Students as Sources of Support” by B. Tait Kellogg, Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice
INSIGHT: “I’m super proud to share the work of my colleague, Tait Kellogg, who recently published this article on the many forms of support college students provide to their social network, including peers, siblings, and parents. I love the asset-based orientation of this work, as it helps to complete what has mostly been an incomplete picture of many college students by highlighting a core strength: that they are not just recipients of support, but rather the providers of support throughout their lives that prove essential to their unique social fabrics. I think anyone working with college students would enjoy this read!”


The What, Why, and How of a ‘Data Party’…

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At HEI, our team of researchers loves an opportunity for participatory learning and intentional activities that involve making sense of data. Enter: the data party. At HEI we host data parties for clients, which yield game-changing insights and have led to decisions that help organizations fulfill their missions. Our clients love data parties nearly as much as we do–and yet, we know that a data party can still sound opaque or even daunting. Below, we’ve laid out the basics of a data party to answer frequently asked questions. If you would like to speak to us about this approach to learning, please CONTACT US.

What is a data party?

Also known as a data walk or participatory data analysis, a data party is a gathering of stakeholders to engage with data, sometimes before a final report. While a stand-alone report can sit on a shelf, skimmed by only a few, hosting a data party allows many stakeholders within an organization to come together as experts, unpacking what has occurred over the past year, rooted in data. A facilitator leads the group through a series of questions or exercises designed to align with the team or organization’s strategic goals. Through leveraging the collective wisdom of a group, insights are made and absorbed, greater understandings are created, analysis is refined for final publication or presentation, and a variety of voices are heard. We find that deep learning occurs in these convenings, and most are finished in the space of a morning or afternoon. 

Why host a data party? 

Data parties are a powerful way to harness the expertise and wisdom of stakeholders. They help to raise and give a platform for all voices, while also giving stakeholders an opportunity to feel ownership of program/organization decisions and actions. They are also an efficient and effective tool for refining a report or presentation and ensuring broad buy-in before official publication or exhibition.

Finally, data parties help to build internal capacity within a program to regularly engage with data beyond the party convening. Data fear or avoidance is often overcome as participants learn accessible tools and strategies for interacting with data in ways that impact and improve their work. Groups can have an “aha” moment recognizing that data is not an after-thought or a tangential entity that exists outside their purviews; rather, data is one of the best tools for continually learning and improving outputs day after day, quarter after quarter, year after year.

What does a data party consist of?

HEI coordinates data parties in which client staff members can engage with evaluation data, create easy-to-digest reports and presentations to share with the board and other key stakeholders, and assist clients in reviewing and revising their theory of change, logic model, and/or evaluation plan. Using facilitated techniques such as data placemats, think-pair-share, gallery walks, quadrant charts, and so forth, our data parties are fun, safe, and structured opportunities for program staff to engage actively with evaluation data and findings.

The group convened can be a small, intimate team or a larger forum-like gathering. The information examined can be both qualitative and quantitative. And yes–data parties are fun! Learning together and coalescing as a group often yields boosted morale, renewed commitment, and even a few laughs.

To learn more, please CONTACT US


Client Spotlight – SIUE IFLIP

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HEI is enthusiastic to shine a spotlight on the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIUE) project, “Exploring Faculty Attitudes and Strategies that Support Successful Flipped Teaching” (IFLIP). IFLIP is NSF funded and seeks to examine faculty experiences in designing, implementing, and refining “flipped” teaching in STEM courses at SIUE and St. Louis Community College (STLCC). As the project explains, “Flipped teaching is an instructional practice where traditional teaching is reversed, with instruction occurring outside of class time, allowing classroom time to be focused on the application of content.”

Over the last three years, the IFLIP team has been working with 24 STEM faculty members to implement a flipped teaching model in their classrooms. The overall goals of this project are as follows: 

  1. Provide professional development to 24 faculty members to obtain competency in flipped teaching. 
  2. Examine faculty perceptions, attitudes, and intentions towards flipped teaching.
  3. Examine similarities and differences between a two-year and a four-year institution to develop a successful flipped teaching implementation model that is applicable across institutions.
  4. Institutionalize flipped teaching through a network of peer experts.
  5. Widely disseminate the flipped teaching implementation model and learning materials.

A wealth of knowledge and insight has stemmed from this project. Click here to read about IFLIP. 


Staff Spotlight: Kate Potterfield, Communications and Marketing Director

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

Kate Potterfield is Director of Marketing and Communications. She helps HEI and its clients advance their work through strategic outreach, content, branding, and messaging. She has run her own strategic communications consulting business, Kate Potterfield Communications, and previously served as Director of Communications in the President’s Office at Georgetown University. She has an MFA in writing from the University of San Francisco and a BA in English from Georgetown University.

What first drew you to work in higher education?

Initially, I fell into it. My first love was writing, so a few years out of college, when a speechwriting job opened at my alma mater, I couldn’t pass it up. After several years of working at a university, I couldn’t help but become passionate about equity in college access and college success as I witnessed day after day the power of a college education to open up a person’s world. As a speechwriter at a university, I had the pleasure of regularly communicating about the power of college to help form one’s character and create opportunities through work, thought, and other modes of meaning-making. The power of education to transform one’s internal life as well as their external circumstances remains deeply inspiring to me.

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

In my work with HEI, I’ve grown passionate about the ability of organizational learning to translate into concrete, on-the-ground differences in both individuals’ lives and the contexts they live in. I’m mostly “right-brain dominant” and am drawn to creative work and processes that hone intuition, but I’ve always had a nagging “left-brain” thought that even the most well-intentioned work can be improved through analysis and strategic learning. I’ve loved seeing how the work of HEI’s incredible research team has helped our clients grow their impact across postsecondary education and the workforce.

What gives you hope in the work you do?

My father drummed into me that “things can always be different”–that it’s never too late for anything and that the rippling tide of change is one decision, one action step away. So I’m heartened by the work of our team and our clients. Seeing how their work translates into growth, strengthened impacts, and change for real people and systems gives me immense hope.

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

Even in a largely Zoom world, I love the magic of collaboration. My HEI colleagues and our clients are constantly teaching me how to be a better leader, a better thinker, a better doer. I love when we can come together and advance an idea or project and create something more than the sum of its parts.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’m grateful for the opportunity to work at HEI and I look forward to continuing to meet all the amazing people that cross HEI’s path!


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

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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
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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
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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?