2023 summer fellows for The Learning Partnership
The 2023 Summer Research Fellows with The Learning Partnership team at their orientation kick-off. From left to right: (front) Rachel Zhou, Willow Kelleigh (REU Fellow), Jennifer Duck (Data Manager), Yucheng Cao; (back) Lavare Henry, Steven McGee (President), Chungsoo Na, Tony Kirkosian, Jordan Mathews (Administrative Assistant)

Last week, The Learning Partnership hosted the initial 2-day orientation for the 2023 Summer Research Fellows. These researchers were selected from a national pool of candidates through a competitive selection process. This year’s participants come from multidisciplinary backgrounds, from policy analysis, education, to instructional technology. During the orientation there were opportunities to interact with various partners, such as CPS, UIC, Loyola, and DePaul. The presentations provided a comprehensive understanding of CS education in CPS, roles of CAFÉCS and historical context of CS4All. The summer fellows delighted at the opportunity to work with such large data sets and being in the heart of downtown Chicago. In this blog, the fellows share their background and takeaways on their experiences with the fellowship program thus far.  

Rachel Zhou, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Growing up in China, I observed a very different approach to computer science (CS) education. Unlike the broad spectrum of CS courses available today, our primary focus back then was on typing and mastering simple tools like drawing. In comparison, the structure of computer science education in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) from kindergarten through high school is impressive. Having the opportunity to work with such extensive datasets is indeed exhilarating. The Learning Partnership offers unprecedented access to data from a vast number of students attending CPS. 

In my current role, I’m involved in analysis of clickstream data from I intend to apply the knowledge obtained from this analysis to identify student engagement patterns within this learning platform. These insights will equip teachers with effective strategies to enrich their curriculum and enhance the overall learning experience.

Willow Kelleigh, Mount Holyoke College

Coming back to The Learning Partnership for a second summer has been a great experience so far and I am so grateful that I could participate in the graduate fellows’ orientation. I really appreciated getting to know the driven and inquisitive members of the CAFÉCS leadership team and some of the very knowledgeable and passionate people at CPS. Placing my analysis in a larger picture of CPS CS education and research has helped me to understand more of the impact and context of my findings. 

In the fall, I will be entering my senior year at Mount Holyoke College, where I am majoring in Statistics and minoring in Computer Science. I really enjoy using statistics as a tool to better understand our world, and applying my knowledge to help the next generation learn CS. I am most looking forward to learning more statistical methods, working with real-world data, and continuing to work with and learn from my colleagues.

Yucheng Cao, UC Irvine

Teachers work so hard! I used to work as an English teacher in China, but over the years I wanted to shift into general education. After completing my PhD in Education with a specialization in Language, Learning & Technology, I’m now glad to be in the final stretch with my postdoc.

This orientation has been wonderful by learning more about how research works in the field, not just for scholars, but also for the local community and teachers, those who give us the data and are in control of it. I have also enjoyed meeting people from different specialties because I am most familiar with people in my field, and this has given me the chance to have an interdisciplinary application. We are all people from different angles, different experiences, and different approaches to research, so it will be interesting to see what we all learn.

Lavare Henry, William and Mary

As a recent PhD recipient in Education Policy, Planning, & Leadership, and having a background in school leadership, I am wanting to further develop my skills in the research process and how policy analysts influence change. I am curious about some of the behind the scenes activities that guide school leadership, and how policy makers use data to inform policies and the relationship between this and effective schools, leaders and teachers.

I always have my eyes on my own country and how I contribute to the educational policy in Jamaica, especially in computer science. Therefore, this summer will enrich my immersion to research in a new place, especially such a populous city like Chicago. One of the best parts about being able to come to Chicago for the orientation was the intentionality of what the district has done in terms of not just in having the desire of CS4All, but when you look under the hood, they don’t just talk the talk, they actually walk the walk. It’s not just good enough to say, ‘these are our goals.’ You must be intentional in defining the steps to reach those goals. 

Chungsoo Na, Utah State University

Beyond assessments, I want to provide a diagnostic of students’ learning. My field is Instructional Technology & Learning Sciences, and this research can be helpful for students by knowing where they are at and for teachers and stakeholders, too, to refine their instruction and curriculum from the diagnostic assessment information.

This will be my first time to analyze such large-scale data. In educational research, unless we work in teams, it’s not the case. I will have a unique opportunity in that I will need to do data wrangling and analyses and to do it in a plain language that can be understood by those who aren’t researchers. I look forward to publishing my findings into an interpretable way that will be meaningful for the population we serve.

This opportunity with The Learning Partnership is a way I can improve my expertise in STEM assessment, especially in K-12 computer science education. And when it comes time to return to Chicago in August, I look forward to hearing more about the other fellows’ research projects, too.

Tony Kirkosian, Washington State University

Research and clinical work can be vastly different. Now being in my 3rd year as Educational Psychology PhD student, I began to realize that I was enjoying the research rather than the clinical side of things. Working with The Learning Partnership is one way that I can grow as a researcher and it’s where I’d like to be making my contribution to the field of education. I’d like to work as an educational research consultant in the future and continue to work with The Learning Partnership.

My time in Chicago was a unique experience because guests from CPS came and spoke to us about student data and this was insightful. I learned that we are putting the students and the parents first. It’s their data. It’s just as Sarah Dickson of CPS said, “Be a steward of their data,” in other words, we have an obligation to center the voices of the impacted. 

This has also been a great way to be part of a community of people who want to make impactful policy changes. This inspires me and helps me to feel more secure in my career and furthermore has solidified in knowing that I’ve chosen the right field for my career.