Intern Spotlight: Q&A with Adam Shelton

Adam began working at The Learning Partnership as the Data Analyst Intern in the beginning of summer 2019, and has just wrapped up his time with us as he finished his Masters program and begins a new chapter at Northwestern University. Thank you for everything, Adam, we will miss you!

Question: Can you start by telling me a little bit about your educational background and interests?

I have a Bachelors in Sociology from UMass Amherst, and I now have a Masters in Computational Social Science from UChicago. When I was starting at The Learning Partnership, I only had my Bachelors and I was still working in my program on my Masters. I had mostly quantitative experience from my time at UMass and I also had some work experience working at the IT department in the College of Education at UMass. So, again, I’m pretty centered in sort of a tech and quantitative background – that’s what I had coming into the internship.

Question: What attracted you to the Data Analyst internship position at The Learning Partnership in the first place?

What really caught my eye about the position was that it would reinforce what I already learned, while also promoting growth. I think that is really great about The Learning Partnership: they’re this small company that was able to offer a lot of support. It was very easy to get in contact with Steven, or whoever else I needed, because they’re all right there. My background was in Sociology and I had worked with a few educational data sets here and there, but it was not anything I had worked with extensively. But what really sealed it for me was when I went in for my interview and spent a lot of time talking with the postdocs about the research they were doing, and all the research they were doing was very impactful. That was something that was reinforced my entire time there and I discovered it is really important to me. 

Question: When you first started, what were some of the things that were most exciting to you?

I think most exciting to me was some of the data that they had. A lot of their data is not publicly available and has interesting things on student outcomes and school performance. Again, all of these were things that I did not necessarily focus on or look at before, but there’s a lot of interesting questions to answer there. I think I was most excited about digging into all of that and having this opportunity to answer some questions and, again, hopefully come up with some way that things can be improved. 

Question: Earlier you mentioned feeling supported at the company – would you mind elaborating on ways you felt support and if there were any additional ways you could have felt more supported?

I think the structure of a small company really lends itself to offering that support – I have a direct line to Steven, who is the President, so if there was anything I needed or  was looking for it was very easy to reach out to him and have it happen. I think on the flipside of that, one of the problems with a small company is that you are sometimes constrained by what resources you have available. And Steven and Randi do a fantastic job, but they are just two people, so sometimes it might be harder to get in contact with one of them or to get something sorted out right away. It really did feel like a family and I think it was really important for me at that point to feel that they would be there no matter what happened. 

Question: Would you say that the internship matched your expectations going into it?

I was a little surprised by how much independence they offered me and how much freedom I had to dig into the data and to form research questions on my own. Sometimes that freedom was a little bit of a double-sided edge in that I had to figure out a lot of stuff on my own. They could offer me support, but for some of the more complicated, quantitative analyses, that was something I had to rely on myself for. I ended up learning a lot more that way, and they did offer the right support when I needed it, and having that freedom to research the questions I had was really beneficial for my own growth and learning, and really set me up for the position where I’m in now where I am leading an independent area of the company and making big decisions. In the end, that freedom gave me a lot of the confidence I needed to go out and excel at my next position. 

What was your average day like during the summer? And how did that change once you transitioned to balancing school and internship at the same time?

For the most part over the summer, I was working on analyses pretty much on my own. A few times a week, I would meet with Steven or Randi to talk about what I was doing, and then we would have our weekly staff meetings. If I had questions or concerns, I would reach out to Jenn or whoever else I needed to figure out a question I had about the data. When I transitioned in the fall to interning part time, all that freedom they offered me was really beneficial because it allowed me to work at my own pace. They are very in tune with how to support us and made sure to check in on me and make sure I got the resources I needed to complete a project. 

Can you describe some of the ways that you grew during your time as an intern? 

I became a lot more confident in my own abilities, especially with some of the more advanced, quantitative analyses. The Learning Partnership gave me the chance to take a deep dive into different techniques and methods that I had only previously been able to dabble in. I developed my initiative skills there which were something I was always trying to do but never really got that push, so that really gave me that push that I needed. 

In what other ways did the internship help you reach the next step in your profession? And what is that next step for you?

My new job title is ‘Data Manager’ at Northwestern Neighborhood & Network Initiative, a small lab at Northwestern. I manage the data and data infrastructure they have to make it easier for their analysts and data scientists to do their work. Again, being able to progress my skills on taking initiative and self-motivation have been key to surviving any job while you’re working remotely during a pandemic. I got a lot of experience working with sensitive data and learning how to handle that all properly, and all those things really help with the new position. 

What were some of the outcomes of the work you provided The Learning Partnership?

My project over most of the summer was looking to see if there was a relationship between schools and when they adopted the ECS curriculum, and I did not find any significant relationship, which overall is a good thing. I’ve also contributed to a few papers along the way. The most notable is the paper I worked on with John about AP CS outcomes and whether the teachers having a CS background affects the students learning the material. I helped out with taking all of their data and centralizing it, and that was the most notable thing besides my data analysis work. 

How would you describe the company culture of The Learning Partnership?

The Learning Partnership has that small company vibe where everyone is seen as family. Steven and Randi have been great about supporting me through every part of my life that they reasonably can. Knowing they were flexible and able to work with me if I had any concerns, that they would help me figure it out, versus feeling that I was out here on my own – that really helped with my situation. It can be difficult to juggle all these things and also stay positive and still turn out good work at the end of the day. The Learning Partnership became a second family and I wish I could bring you all with me in my pocket. 

Would you recommend this internship for others in your program?

Yeah, I think I would. I think there is a certain type of person that really excels in this internship, and there are others that would really struggle a bit more, even from my own program. As someone that came from a more sociological realm, I felt I really did fit in there. if you are really sold on doing impactful social science research, I think this is the perfect place to do it – you would be hard-pressed to find a better opportunity. 

Would you ever come back to work at The Learning Partnership in the future if there was a position you were interested in?

If I have learned anything so far, it’s that you never know where you’re going to end up and what you’re going to end up doing until it happens. But you all are doing great work and that is something that I would always be proud to be a part of no matter what happens.