Amaya is applying the skills she gained from her DPSS experience to enhance her undergraduate degree work.
Headshot of Tatiana Amaya
Tatiana Amaya

Tatiana Amaya is a sophomore at Claremont McKenna College in California, studying public policy and psychology. Her decision to major in psychology was informed by her desire to better understand her siblings’ experiences with mental health. “As a first-generation female Afro-Latina student, and the second oldest of seven, I am especially driven to shape a better society. My cultural identity motivates me to be the best version of myself and improve the circumstances for my family and my community. My purpose is to continue the work others before me have done.”

In addition, Amaya said her interest in policy was spurred by the 2018 Parkland shooting in Florida. “The incident highlighted the disparity in treatment of gun violence in different racial communities. When similar incidents happened in minority areas, they received much less notice and attention—especially from the government. I hope to address disparities like these and amplify marginalized voices through education policy.”

Although Amaya is exploring policy as an undergraduate, she wanted to gain the data analysis and policy writing skillsets needed to address systemic disparities in education—which led her to the University of Chicago's Data and Policy Summer Scholar (DPSS) program. 

“DPSS was my first exposure to quantitative methods, R programming, and data analytics, which made it challenging at first. However, working with teaching staff 1-on-1 and collaborating with my peers made the learning curve less intimidating.” She also noted the value of faculty support. “Professor Austin Wright is amazing. He really encouraged us to think outside of the box about policy questions and guided us in the right way. With his guidance, I completed my DPSS capstone project on Territorial Control Measures and Theories based on data from Afghanistan, which gave me a nuanced glimpse into interpreting datasets and the extent to which they are representative of a population. David Chrisinger, the head of the writing program at Harris, also hosted a workshop on public policy writing that still informs my writing for my policy classes.”

“One of the most valuable lessons I learned during my time with DPSS is the importance of having representative data to support creating, reforming, and abolishing policies. This lesson has encouraged me to continue my path into education policy by finding data that proves how necessary it is for education reform.”

The virtual setting of the DPSS program, Amaya said, also allowed her to balance program work with a previous internship commitment she had with the Center for Black Educator Development. “My internship was an invaluable opportunity to explore my interest in education, so I felt very fortunate to be able to pursue that goal while actively participating in the DPSS program. The skills I learned in DPSS helped me interpret educational disparities shown through data at the Center for Black Educator Development.”

Amaya found that the virtual format still allowed her to build connections with other students. “I pursued DPSS with the intent of fostering new relationships with others who are interested in policy. During the program, I was able to find ways to connect with others through hosting virtual living rooms and starting group chats with my classmates. I knew the bonds I built would extend beyond DPSS and into the social and professional world.”

Now back at Claremont McKenna College, Amaya continues forging connections through her involvement with One Generation Away, an organization for first-generation students, as well as Black Women’s Collective. She also volunteers annually with High Heels for Hope, distributing backpacks and helping to run mental health awareness workshops at Girard College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

Post graduation, she plans to gain experience as an educator to better understand those who are affected by education policy—and she eventually aspires to pursue public office as the Secretary of Education.