Anderson’s ultimate goal is to use the analytical skills she gains at the University of Chicago to continue her work making community college education more accessible.
Kelsey Anderson, MSCAPP Class of 2021, Headshot
Kelsey Anderson

Kelsey Anderson, MS in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP) class of 2021, graduated with a Bachelor’s in Social Work from the University of Washington in the midst of the 2008 Great Recession. She took a few different part-time social service roles before finding her first full-time job as a funding advisor at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington.  

“We helped a lot of returning students gain office skills to be competitive in the job market,” Anderson says. “However, many people who sought to further their education would get laid off repeatedly, due to numerous systemic barriers, and return back again to gain more skills. … My career path since has been in response to that experience.”  

Frustrated with the revolving door she was seeing and the challenges of cyclical unemployment students were facing, Anderson took a different role at Highline Community College as a data specialist, writing queries to extract data to send to the federal government in order to maintain financial aid and grants. “I loved having the data at my fingertips which allowed me to answer questions from leadership about what we should do for students, and which policies would be most effective.”

A key takeaway for Anderson from this experience was seeing how theories and best practices wouldn’t always pan out as expected. “Often, broad policy changes wouldn’t work so well for our underrepresented students, and that’s where data analysis comes into play: it put us in touch with what was actually happening with our students… It was incredible to be a vehicle for those voices.”

Although she found her work gratifying, there were gaps in her largely self-taught toolkit. “I was frequently Googling information or trying to remember things from my undergrad statistics class.”

That’s what led her to Harris.

“The bent of the MSCAPP program was teaching people to use computing and data skills with the purpose of making social impact. There weren’t many programs that focus on data science for the public good, and I really fell in love with the way faculty and staff support students, the way the curriculum is structured, and the interdisciplinary approach.”

So far, Anderson’s experience at Harris has been rewarding, both in class and as part of the Harris community. “In addition to relearning what I taught myself on the job—the right way, this time—the students here are incredibly supportive of each other.”

In early 2020, Anderson secured an internship at the Institute of Politics’ Urban Policy and Research Program (UPReP), where she assists the district Decision Support Office at City Colleges of Chicago. “I applied based on a HarrisLink announcement, and then a week later I attended an MSCAPP lunch where I connected with one of the speakers, a Harris alum who works with UPReP. I learned about the work the City Colleges are doing with Adult Basic Education in the areas of English language learning and high school equivalency, and it fit in very well with my previous work experience and career goals. Now I’m gauging the effectiveness of the City Colleges’ transition programs from adult education to industry credentials and/or college credit as they wrap up their first year.”

Anderson’s ultimate goal is to continue making community college education more accessible—either through a role in a government oversight organization or institutional research.

“I am interested in the long-term impacts of education for families and communities, and it worries me that sometimes our education system sends really negative messages to people about their capacities. Highline Community College was largely low income, largely people of color, and this was a group of people that had experiences similar to mine: being told education was not an area in which they could excel. And there’s a lot of untapped talent there—a lot of people who could be going into STEM fields and earning a lot more money and bringing that back to their families and communities, but because the way they had been taught, they believed they weren’t capable. And that resonated with me, because I had a bad personal experience with math.

“It’s an unfortunately common experience to be told from a very young age that you aren’t able to do something well, and then you believe it. A lot of it has to do with the stories that we’re told or that we tell ourselves. I have been fortunate enough to rewrite my story. Now I want to hold the door open for as many people as possible.”