Spotlight: Willow Kelleigh

Willow Kelleigh was the first undergraduate intern that The Learning Partnership has hosted. When she was turned down for the EDI Fellowship program (see blog on Normandie Gonzalez-Orellana), she approached The Learning Partnership with a request to intern with us funded by the Lynk program at Mount Holyoke. Her summer experience with us was so successful that The Learning Partnership will now be offering Research Experiences for Undergraduates in statistics. The Learning Partnership’s Cat McGee interviewed Willow about her summer experience.

Cat: Can you tell me a bit about your educational background and your interests?

Willow: I’m a stats major from Mount Holyoke. And, so far, I’ve really enjoyed the more applied side of statistics. I also just declared a computer science minor. The part that I really enjoy about statistics is looking at data and trying to analyze it to make it into something useful and understandable. That was what I was excited to do this past summer with The Learning Partnership, especially with the survey data, to try and take something that’s long and not easily recognizable and turn it into something that we could actually use with future Data Jams.

Cat: What projects were you involved in during your time here at The Learning Partnership?

Willow: I worked on two main projects. The first one was creating or updating challenge cards. These are literal cards that have tasks or challenges to complete on the front and then the back has how to accomplish it. I created cards for two projects: CODAP and ArcGIS. And then my other project that I worked on, was doing some analysis for the Data Jam survey data that we had.

Cat: Can you describe the funding opportunity that Mount Holyoke provides for summer internships?

Willow: Mount Holyoke provides something called Lynk Funding. It’s a program that is open to all students who are going to be returning. There are several steps to fulfill to qualify. For example, having someone look over your resume, going to workshops on how to do interviews, job training, etc. Then, if you can find an internship that would otherwise be unpaid or underpaid, then you are guaranteed to receive funding from the college. You used to have to apply for funding through the program, but it was such a popular program for donors of the college to give to that it’s now guaranteed. Hundreds and hundreds of students get funding every summer.

Cat: What attracted you to The Learning Partnership as a host site for your internship?

Willow: I found The Learning Partnership through the EDI Fellowship Program that The Learning Partnership was a part of. I applied to their fellowship specifically because I really liked that it was using ecological data from the students’ own environment. I also liked that the students would also have the opportunity to create their own creative data visualizations with that data. I just thought that was the kind of opportunity I would have really liked when I was in middle school. I thought it would be great if I could try to help with that same kind of opportunity and offer it to other people.

Cat: What was most interesting to you when you first started?

Willow:  I hadn’t ever had the degree of freedom that I was given at the Learning Partnership. I thought it was really cool that I just got to work on these projects for several days and then Steven would check in and ask how things are going. He’d look over my work, provide suggestions and then I’d work on incorporating those suggestions. It was awesome to be given the independence to work on the projects in the way that I thought made sense but I still was able to ask for opinions and receive feedback when it was needed.

Cat: What are some highlights from your summer experience?

Willow: Part of what I had to do for the analysis for the Data Jam data involved me researching, like what happens when there are problems in the data? Is this statistical test really the best fit for the kind of patterns that I’m seeing? Overall, it was such a great experience working with real-life messy data. Sometimes in school they’ll occasionally give you messy data just to see what you do. But most of the time it’s already been vetted by somebody or cleaned up so that certain things will magically fix whatever’s going on. This was my first experience where I just had to figure it out. And I really enjoyed seeing what that process was like with real data in a non-classroom environment. I thought that was a milestone for me as a statistician just to see what it’s like to really go out there and use real-world data. It’s my first time having this experience of actually doing what I want to be doing.

Cat: How has the transition been from your summer work to working for us during the school year?

Willow: I would say it was a lot harder to balance my work now than it was over the summer. I think I really succeeded in an environment where I go to one place and I work there. Now I have classes every day and I’m a TA for a stats class here which I enjoy doing but it’s a lot. I have more unstructured time on the weekends so that’s when I do my work for The Learning Partnership. It has also been different doing remote work, but overall I’m happy with the continuation of my work.

Cat: In what ways did this internship help you reach the next step in your profession?

Willow: It really helped show me that I can apply what I’m learning in class and that working with data can actually be useful for people. I think whatever is ahead of me, job-wise, I know I have the ability to take what I learn in class and apply it to the real-world. I’m very grateful that I had that opportunity to show that I actually can apply my knowledge. As for what’s next, I am looking forward to seeing what opportunities come my way. I think I’m applying to some internships and some research projects. I’m still trying to see if I want to work in an industry or an academic world. I’m just excited to see what’s out there.

Cat: Would you recommend this internship to other college students?

Willow: I would definitely say that the opportunity to work for The Learning Partnership was really cool for me. I think what was really unique is that I wasn’t applying for anything. I reached out to Steven saying, “Hey. I want to make this work.” And we made it work. I would assume that anybody who might do this in the future can collaborate and figure out a way that they can help do what they want to do with The Learning Partnership. I would definitely recommend that. I think my experience was great.