You’re headed to college – now what?

Last month I gave a presentation during W&M’s admitted student day. While it’s pushing a couple of decades, I well remember the agony and excitement around the decision of where to attend college, and I wanted to provide insights that I would find most helpful were I back in their shoes.

So in grand scholarly tradition, I crowdsourced the presentation, reaching out to current AidData research assistants to get a better understanding of what they most value on campus.

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AidData senior research assistant trains new interns on geo referencing methods

While I’ve included some of their responses in full below, what is remarkable – and rewarding – is the commonalities in their feedback. Specifically, the 4 themes below were consistently identified as things you can expect if you come to work with AidData at W&M::

  • Opportunity for growth and mobility
  • A strong sense of community
  • Exposure to internal and external thought-leaders in research and policy community
  • Ability to pursue intellectual challenges and project based, mentored, research

This feedback is especially rewarding, as it comprises the lifeblood of the experiences we try to create at W&M as a liberal arts institution. These principles of active and inquiry based learning are critical to the building of what is increasingly referred to as “high impact practices”. Dr. George Kuh, a noted scholar of student engagement, notes that these practices are some of the most beneficial to create a powerful learning environment. For any student that is contemplating their college choice (or what to do once they are on campus), I’d highly encourage you to search for more about Dr. Kuh’s work and what it might mean for your learning journey. Hint: it’s all about inquiry based learning!

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AidData student conducts field research in Kampala, Uganda

Below are a selection of quotes from our research assistants. These are from real, live students, under no coercion except the occasional plate of brownies:

“I think my favorite part of AidData was all the people I got the chance to create great connections with, whether it was staff members, groups from Save the Children or the National Security Council that came in for brown bags, the lunch we had with President Reveley or the grassroots organizations from the Middle East. The culture of AidData makes it a place that you want to be associated with, and one that provides you with positive life experiences that you don’t put on a resume. It’s been the most meaningful thing I have done at W&M.”

“I would tell them there’s opportunity for growth and mobility, that AidData truly wants their students to do well and progress. There’s a community feel to the work environment; everyone is accessible to anyone (e.g. interns can always pop down to second floor and talk with full time staff) and they are there to help you and want to see you do well. Opportunity for independent research, if there’s something in which you’re interested. Large network of professionals, again, totally accessible to the students. Development of skills that you can use for the rest of your life; GIS, data visualization, front and back end data management, policy writing, etc. Cheesy add on: I made my best friend through AidData! We would have never become friends if it weren’t for our summer together and now we’re inseparable.”

“AidData embodies the “liberal arts / research” dynamic—a liberal arts perspective of multiple disciplines (GIS, stats, econ, hard science, etc) that runs free on Scotland Street. But AidData also strongly brings in W&M’s public service vibe. The purpose of our work is to not stay in the ivory tower, and students have ample opportunity to see the impact of what they do. It’s empowering to have opportunities like the summer fellows program to research abroad and have close connections with USAID and opportunities to work with people who have a wealth of experience at the World Bank. AidData allows students a great perspective on the policy making process and how their research or interests can impact that process. We may be 2 (or 3 pending traffic….) hours south of DC, but you do feel connected to the policy-making process. It’s neat that there’s this well-known hotspot of development work going on in Williamsburg.”

Categories: Admission, Campus Life, Careers, Community Engagement & Service, Research, Student Leadership Development, Technology Tags: , , , , ,
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