How graduate assistants add to our work

Every year, City Connects has a dozen or so Boston College graduate assistants who contribute to our work and share our knowledge. 

“One of the best things about having graduate assistants is that they really become true collaborators and members of our team,” Claire Foley, City Connects’ Associate Director, says.

“They are involved in all the different phases of our work: research, implementation, and policy. That includes collecting and analyzing data, literature reviews, organizing a community event, or sharing our research at conferences.” 

City Connects selects students from different Boston College programs including Counseling Psychology, Applied and Developmental Psychology, and MESA, the Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment program. 

In addition to learning about the City Connects model, graduate assistants contribute their own intellectual curiosity about how the model works and what makes it effective for students. 

One great example is Despina Petsagourakis, a doctoral student in Counseling Psychology at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development.

She worked with Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director, to look at how students move through tiers of risk.

“We took K1 [pre-K] students in one school district and looked at their assignments over the course of five school years. We found that over this time period, students in higher tiers of risk were more likely to move tiers than students in lower tiers of risk. 

“On average, these higher risk students were more likely to move to lower tiers of risk each year. This preliminary study builds upon studies examining academic outcomes of students and suggests that in addition to improving academically, students in City Connects school are likely decreasing in level of risk over time in the intervention.” 

Petsagourakis shared these findings in a poster that she presented at an American Psychological Association conference.

By attending conferences, Foley says, “Graduate assistants help us bring some of our most recent discoveries about City Connects and its impact on students to a wider audience. It’s also part of their professional growth.”

Working in collaboration with Mary Walsh and other City Connects staff members, graduate students have also given presentations at conferences hosted by the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness, the Massachusetts Psychological Association, the American Educational Research Association, and the New England Educational Research Organization.

Other graduate assistants have worked on a research/practice partnership project between City Connects and Salem Public Schools. As Salem was implementing City Connects, our graduate assistants transcribed and analyzed interviews and also collected, coded, and analyzed data. 

Some graduate assistants have gone on to work for City Connects. Jordan Lawson, a former MESA doctoral student who conducted research on Boston’s school assignment lottery, is now a Quantitative Analyst and Statistical Consultant in our program. And Chelsea Hancock, who earned a master’s degree in School Counseling, is a City Connects Coordinator at the Jackson/Mann School in Boston.

For Elizabeth McKernan, a graduate assistant who earned a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, being part of City Connects has been a chance to learn about educational policy. She says the experience “demystified all the decisions that get made before students get to the classroom. Seeing how that process works has been really insightful.” She published an op-ed on City Connects in CommonWealth Magazine, and she is using what she has learned as she pursues her teaching career.

Finally, graduate assistants bring a tremendous amount of passion and energy to City Connects. 

“They bring a shared sense of commitment to our mission,” Foley says. “That’s true of every graduate assistant whether they are working on technical quantitative work, helping to organize events or edit public facing documents, or working on the policy side. Truly, to a person, they share our sense of mission.”

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