Gordon uses his MACRM skills as a Research Analyst at the UChicago Urban Labs’ Crime Lab and Education Lab and as an Affiliate Researcher at the UChicago Consortium on School Research.
Alex Gordon
Alex Gordon

Although Alex Gordon graduated from Northwestern University at 19 and worked in private industry, his experience as a substitute teacher at Chicago Public Schools is what truly prepared him to apply to graduate school. “I knew I couldn’t be a productive researcher until I identified a question that had practical value to people,” he said. “I went into the workforce to find the question I could put years of my life toward answering.”

At Northwestern, Gordon sought to understand the world through an analytical perspective, majoring in economics, math, and higher education studies. His interest in research arose through his senior thesis, which explored if students looked at past evaluations before registering for classes.

“It was a fairly simple project, but every faculty member I talked to about it was excited because it spoke to concerns and helped them understand their workplace better. It made me realize research doesn’t have to be about finding the most unique dataset or using the most advanced analytical methods. If you find something interesting and people want to know about it because it affects their lives, that’s enough to drive great research.” 

After graduation, Gordon worked in the private sector doing contract work with the Deportation Research Clinic at Northwestern. “My connection with the Clinic helped me keep in touch with the fact that research is not a game—it can change lives and change the world.”

He subsequently joined City Year, working as a teacher’s aide in a school on Chicago’s West Side. “I was immediately struck by the difficulty in finding substitute teachers,” he said. “Teachers would call in sick, we wouldn’t be able to find subs, and we’d end up sending eighth graders into the kindergarten room to supervise. It was terrible. I began to wonder why there was such a shortage of substitute teachers and found a surprising lack of research.”

Gordon had found his question.

While putting together graduate school applications, Gordon taught fifth through eighth grade math at the St. Bartholomew School, where he taught a hybrid classroom with both remote and in-person students. “I had days where I needed to call in but couldn’t because I knew there were no subs. I saw teacher burnout, and also fewer subs available because they were all filling positions full-time. That experience confirmed for me that the substitute shortage was a crisis that needed to be researched and solved.”

When considering graduate school, Gordon said Harris was his top choice. "I wanted to do research that was immediately and practically beneficial, and the Harris MACRM program shared that mission.”

Now, as a Research Analyst at the UChicago Urban Labs’ Crime Lab and Education Lab, Gordon works on the Personalized Learning Initiative Project, “a nationwide effort to assess the effectiveness of various tutoring formats in mitigating COVID-related learning loss.”

Additionally, as an Affiliate Researcher at the UChicago Consortium on School Research, Gordon co-authored two significant studies—one on trends in Chicago Public Schools teacher retention related to the pandemic, and one that assessed the effectiveness of the Skyline curriculum currently used in CPS.

Gordon said his Harris experience prepared him well for his current roles. “The econometrics training from professors like Steven Durlauf and Jeffrey Grogger provided a robust mathematical foundation, and my Political Economy coursework developed my data gathering and cleaning skills. Harris provided me with invaluable technical skills—and the professional networking opportunities got me to where I am today.”