The Kent County Essential Needs Task Force (ENTF) is a decades-old cooperative effort to coordinate services across Kent County, Michigan. Under the leadership of director Tracie Coffman, ENTF has moved toward an evidence-driven approach, allying with the KConnect “collective impact” organization to populate a public dashboard with shared metrics that agencies and nonprofits can use to focus and align efforts and policy advocacy.
CSR is under contract to ACSET, a major ENTF member agency, to assist ENTF workgroups in developing metrics and gathering data for use on an ENTF dashboard and in guiding future programs. We are committed to playing an evenhanded, trustworthy, honest-broker role, and we firmly believe that quality data and disciplined discussion can produce consensus.
CSR is looking forward to co-sponsoring a talk by Calvin College grad Jeff Schiman on Thursday, October 22. Jeff, who left Calvin in 2009 with a B.A. in Economics, is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Economics at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
After graduation, Jeff worked for a year at CSR as a staff Research Specialist. Jeff’s skill with econometrics served the Christian Reformed Church and Calvin’s Development office, among other clients.
Jeff will present his research: “The Signal Value of Merit Awards” In his work, a cutting-edge regression discontinuity design provides evidence of the unintended consequences of performance awards to Chicago school principals.
Research assistants John Gordon and Jack Van Allsburg are due special thanks and credit for their able, committed support of the project. John connected us with the Next Idea team and has been plowing through acres of research documents, while Jack has been a tireless, skilled writer, editor, and graphic designer for the project; the 6-step illustration of Deliberative Polling included in the article is Jack’s handiwork.
Research Assistant from Feb 2014 - July 2015
Degree: BA Psychology, Linguistics (May 2015)
Current Location: DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
Program: MA Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse
We just finished a weekly summer tradition of Music Friday, where each person in the office submits two songs for a playlist that we play on Friday afternoons. Not only did this tradition help us survive the last few hours of the day, but it gave us a chance to get know each other a little better. I have loved my work, but I’ve also been extremely blessed by our moments of play in the office. When I was thinking about how I would write this reflection of sorts, I realized that I wanted to frame it differently than those in the past, and take advantage of my English degree.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have an odd relationship with water. I am entirely fascinated by the distinctive and divine properties that God gave to water. He created something that is less dense in its solid form than in its liquid form. But what is common sense to us is actually a remarkable chemical property: no other molecule behaves in this way. Every other molecule sinks in its solid form; ice floats. This means that we have access to ice rinks, ice fishing, and fresh water in the winter. Its uniqueness is enough for me to adore water.
However, I also love to watch nature documentaries. Have you ever seen Blue Planet? Or Planet Earth? Their specials on oceans will be enough for you to never want to go in the water again. The number of things that can kill you in the ocean is terrifying. Yet I identify with this dissonance. I am simultaneously enamored and terrified of water. When I think about framing my experience at the CSR, I am drawn to liken my time to that of being in water.
When I first started at the CSR, I was the Psychology Department Intern. In the class meetings, I quickly realized that I was one of the few people who was interested in a career that didn’t involve counseling or a helping profession. Since starting Calvin, I knew that while I loved Psychology, my passions and skills were housed in the research department. I knew going into this that my internship was going to be unique.
I spent the first few weeks of my internship understanding the term “baptism by fire” on a personal level. I was given accounts to sites and programs I had never heard of and was expected to use online tutorials to learn them well enough to produce quality results for clients. Although this experience was scary and frustrating at the time, as I look back on it, the expectation to teach myself what I needed to know taught me perseverance and independence. It taught me how to know where to look, how long to keep looking, and when to take a walk to clear my head.
It all felt as if I was learning how to swim for the first time. I found myself simply trying to stay afloat in the deep end of the pool. As with treading water for long periods of time, I began to feel weary. It was then that I taught myself how to look for things to help me stay above water; in my coworkers, Google, and program support forums, I found floatation devices.
Once I was able to keep myself afloat and thrive above water, I found that I really enjoyed the work I was given. Sometimes there were monotonous activities, like data entry. Other times it was work that took a great deal of skill in programs I had become proficient in. I owe my in-depth understanding of Qualtrics and survey design to the trust that the CSR placed in my ability to manage a project that needed a revamp of a client’s online application system. I learned advanced features of the system that would increase ease of use on the user-end, as well as on the back-end. Along the way I learned the importance of data cleanliness and integrity.
I like clean, clear water; I am hesitant to get waist-deep in murky water or murky data, but I’ll do it if I have to. The old adage that “cleanliness is next to godliness” also applies to data. Clean data is well-organized, clear, and concise. It eliminates chances of redundancy or misinterpretation. Creating the structure behind a clean data set is intentional. It means thinking about those who are going to be looking at and working with the data, like the researchers. But also it means taking time to consider those who will be inputting the data. Clean data is maintained by those who understand the importance of ease and clarity on both ends of data work.
The CSR taught me how to be a better researcher. Not only has it given me skills and knowledge of programs and websites, but it has also taught me intuition. Co-workers have taught me how to better search for the answers I’m looking for and how to trust my instincts when it comes to coding, design, and methodology. They have shown me what it looks like to work in an environment that focuses heavily on teamwork as well as independence. They have found the pinnacle of that balance and they embrace it. I now understand what it means to work independently in a team, no matter how paradoxical it sounds.
But in total honesty, what I owe most to the CSR, and what I am most grateful for, is the confidence that they have instilled in me. The staff at the CSR is generous in their compliments; they are kind-hearted people who have the best intentions to ensure your success. They have spoiled me with coworkers who genuinely care about my well-being. It is going to be hard to leave the CSR. My job at CSR has never felt like a burden. It has always felt like a blessing. When I get into the office, I do not dread the day ahead of me. I know that the work I do is meaningful, the people I work with are genuine, and the skills I am learning are worthwhile.
I’m glad I got thrown into the deep end at CSR. But now, it’s time for me to get out of the water and jump into a different pool. No matter what, the things I learned at CSR are coming with me wherever I go. What I’ve learned has become instinctual. The muscle memory of swimming in the CSR pool will come with me to whatever pool I find myself in next.
It’s already time to bid a fond farewell to the students and staff of CSR. We wish you well as you take on new endeavors, and we will miss you.
Greg Kim: After working at CSR as both a research assistant and a Research Specialist, Greg returns to South Korea, where he will serve in the Korean Military for the next few years.
Owen Selles: One of our Research Specialists, Owen, begins his departure from CSR with a month-long trip to Turkey. After that, he’ll begin studying Landscape Architecture and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Our Stellar Students:
Michael Bloom (B.A., Economics)
Alden Hartopo (B.A., Economics and International Relations)
Steven Lewis (B.A., Psychology)
Tavi Stewart (B.A., Sociology)
Josh Vander Leest (B.A., Psychology)
Cari Vos (B.A., Linguistics and Psychology)
Thanks for all you contributed to CSR!