Kinnen’s former managers at KIPP Chicago, both Harris alumni, inspired her to pursue the MS in Computational Analysis and Public Policy.
​Headshot of Caroline Kinnen  ​
​ Caroline Kinnen ​

“You don’t know what you’re talking about until you can explain it to a fifth grader,” says Caroline Kinnen, speaking from her experience leading a Coding Club for middle schoolers at KIPP One Academy. “Teaching basic syntax at the Coding Club definitely refined different skills than those I was gaining through Chi Hack Night at UChicago or the R-Ladies organization.”

Kinnen majored in Political Science and Communications at Ohio State University, but it wasn’t until she worked with City Year AmeriCorps in Boston that she truly realized her passion for education policy.

At City Year, she worked with an eighth grade class to provide academic and behavioral support. “Honestly, it was eye-opening. I was woken up to the breadth of experiences people live with every day. Boston has some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world, yet two miles south teachers are burnt out from the lack of resources available to them—and their students. I realized I wanted to get to the root of some of those problems.”

Interested in doing work on the ground while conducting broader data analysis, Kinnen then secured a job at KIPP Chicago, a charter school network, where she most recently worked as a Senior Data Analyst aggregating regional data to work towards equitable resource allocation. “That’s why I loved working at KIPP, because we helped to equalize the playing field.”

At KIPP Chicago, Kinnen’s former managers, Chris Haid, MPP’05, and Stephanie Oliva, BA’10, happened to both be UChicago alumni who proved to be excellent mentors. “They always would think about equity in terms of the data we were analyzing. If certain groups of students had lower scores, they would look at the data with a mind towards interventions to help those students. They taught me how to apply that framework to my daily work.

“They also believed in me and gave me opportunities—I barely knew how to code when I started, and they gave me the resources and guidance to learn on the job. One day I suddenly just could do things on my own, and [Haid] trusted me that whole time to get there.”

Inspired by Haid and Oliva, Kinnen decided to pursue her MS in Computational Analysis and Public Policy at UChicago. “The half public policy, half computer science program is unique. It’s an excellent opportunity to grow my toolkit through on the ground work. I’m still just skimming the surface of what’s possible in terms of machine learning, Python, and big data, and I’m excited to be part of a program where I can apply what I’m learning right away.”

The highlight of her first quarter, Kinnen said, has been the level of access to TAs and professors through Zoom Office Hours and Piazza, the online discussion and question board. “There're multiple live options per week or and fairly quick response times, and I feel so supported being able to ask any lingering questions I have from lectures or homework.”

Kinnen looks forward to taking classes cross-listed across University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the School of Social Service Administration and continuing to get to know her peers. “I love that Harris is a global community of people with distinct interests, but ultimately, we all want to use public service to help people.”

As for the future, Kinnen looks forward to what doors her Harris experience may open. “While I hope to work at a nonprofit that focuses on using analytics to drive their goals, I’m excited to learn what might spark my interest while at Harris. I want to be receptive and keep my options open in terms of the policy areas I am exploring in addition to education policy.”