Exploring ways to create impact

A portrait of Nikkolette Hunter

Nikkolette Hunter

Education Policy, M.S.Ed., 2020

Before Penn GSE: Peace Corps Volunteer

After Penn GSE: Associate, Social Policy Research Associates

Penn GSE’s Education Policy program was the next logical step in trying to explore what life as an agent of change would look like.

Throughout my life I’ve followed a calling to create social change. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay, I worked on projects tackling the twin challenges of a high youth population and high unemployment. Working in a small rural town, I realized that the community had a great deal of agency and that community-led initiatives were important. Additionally, I had started thinking about policy at a previous job. Given my interests in policy and community-level impact,  Penn GSE’s Education Policy program was the next logical step in trying to explore what life as an agent of change would look like.

Because the program is only one year long, I knew it would be the high intensity experience I was looking for, and I loved how flexible it was. I had a lot of freedom to choose the kinds of classes I wanted to take and I was able to follow my interests and fill in the gaps I had coming into the program. The program succeeds in building people’s confidence using analytical tools, acknowledging different people enter with different experience levels. I wasn’t confident in statistics and working with data when I started, but the program did a good job of building my skill base. By my final semester, I wasn’t afraid to keep moving forward as I sought out additional data and economics classes.

Overall, the coursework builds and prepares you for the practicum, where you’re able to take the lessons learned in the classroom and apply them to a real-world scenario. When I was interviewing for jobs, I couldn’t go through an interview process without bringing the practicum up. Now, as an associate at an educational research department, I’m still pulling from the skills I developed during the practicum. From working with a team and trying to come up with research questions in a way that’s relevant to the client, to developing data collection tools and methodology, to doing the data collection, analysis and writing a report—these are all skills I use today. Yesterday at work I was building a survey and interacting with clients, and the first time I did them was in the practicum. The practicum was a nice introduction to what a career in education policy would actually look like.

Penn is a resource-rich campus. I took ownership of my experience, attending different talks at the law school and at Wharton and exploring resources that helped me expand my learning and find out more about my academic interests. Joining the Black Graduate And Professional Student Assembly (BGAPSA) helped me to connect with students across different departments, and through the Netter Center I was able to work with high school students just a block from campus. As an African American going to this institution, it felt really important for me to show my face and tell my story to this group of kids that look like me. More importantly, it was a good opportunity to learn from them, hear their perspective, and see what it was like in a Philly classroom. 

 Everyone’s experience is unique; there are a plethora of resources if you seek them out. There is a lot to take advantage of both for career and lifestyle, and Penn GSE has much to offer in setting its students up to succeed in the field of education policy. I am currently enjoying the role research plays in creating social change by evaluating programs and interventions. However, I know this is one piece of my journey. I aspire to open a school, become a published author, and continue my volunteer work with nonprofits and work as a researcher. Ultimately, Penn not only helped with my exploration of the education field, but it exposed me to people doing the work and wearing the different hats involved in creating social impact.