A Q&A with Ismerlyn Gonzalez, 2020 MDRC Summer Intern
Ismerlyn Gonzalez, a senior at Hunter College majoring in sociology with a minor in public policy, held one of two paid internships in the MDRC Judith Gueron Scholars Program this summer. While growing up in Harlem, Ismerlyn became quickly aware of the racial and socioeconomic disparities present in New York City’s education system. At Hunter, Ismerlyn coaches incoming freshmen as a Scholar Peer Leader. She is interested in pursuing a master’s degree in public policy to address inequities in education policy. As one of MDRC’s first “virtual” interns, she spent her summer learning about MDRC’s postsecondary education work and its research methods.
Why did you choose to apply for and accept an undergraduate internship at MDRC? What drew you to the internship?
I have developed an interest in education policy over my undergraduate career. My personal experience within New York City’s unequal public school system and my background as a research assistant for Johns Hopkins University in a study about school choice drew me to MDRC. In ultimately accepting the internship, I hoped to gain more exposure to education and other policy area issues that could possibly prepare me to one day contribute to closing systemic gaps faced by many students due to their immigration status, income, or language barriers.
What types of activities did you engage in at MDRC this summer? How did these activities shape your understanding of the organization and its work?
I shadowed SUCCESS, an initiative that aims to improve graduation rates at community colleges through financially sustainable programs. I learned about various aspects of the organization I would not have otherwise been exposed to, such as how the study was inspired by evidence on comprehensive student support programs and how resources can be repurposed or reallocated to sustain these programs for a long time. Alongside my experience with SUCCESS, I had the opportunity to attend seminars with various departments within MDRC, like its legal team as well as publications and external affairs, which informed my understanding of MDRC’s role in education and social policy research.
What skills did you develop — or new content knowledge did you gain — during your internship at MDRC?
In addition to shadowing SUCCESS and attending weekly seminars, I also participated in the Women of Color in Tech affinity group, which created a co-working space where MDRC staff members can expand their coding skills. During the meetings, I gained introductory knowledge about R, something I had not been exposed to prior to the internship.
Regarding content knowledge, I learned the importance of pilots in determining whether all the “moving parts” within large-scale demonstrations and evaluations are operating properly before they are evaluated. In SUCCESS, this meant ensuring that the colleges put SUCCESS programs in place, recruited enough students for their pilot programs, and assessed whether anything could be improved in the SUCCES programs before the study phase started.
Did you have any “aha” moments during your internship?
My “aha” moment came during my one-on-one meetings with MDRC staff. I often reached out to individuals to learn more about the graduate school they attended or planned to attend. In hearing their experiences, I decided to pursue graduate school after accruing some full-time work experience upon graduation. This way, I will approach graduate school more intentionally and build more of my network along the way.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in applying to be an intern at MDRC?
For students that are interested in applying, I would suggest polishing your resume to the best of your ability (and getting other people to review it is great, too). Regarding the personal statement, I recommend taking a few moments to reflect about why it is that you really care about applying and incorporating those reasons into your writing.
For students that will accept the internship, I really encourage them to reach out to staff members who have ended up in the role they would want one day or who enrolled in a graduate program that also interests them. Follow up by connecting on LinkedIn, and, most importantly, do not be afraid to ask questions.
How did your internship experience influence your thoughts about your future career aspirations?
Prior to my internship experience, I was quite set on becoming a policy analyst and pursuing a master’s in public policy right after completing my bachelor’s. Upon learning more about the education policy research conducted by MDRC and the diverse career trajectories of MDRC’s staff, I became more open to defining my interests in social science research and policy after graduation. It led to my “aha” moment of wanting to pursue some full-time work experience before applying to MPP programs.