Zhang turned to the Data and Policy Summer Scholar Program (DPSS) to merge his expertise in the STEM field with his burgeoning interest in educational equity.
Headshot of Raymond Zhang
Raymond Zhang

When asked what led him to the Data and Policy Summer Scholar Program (DPSS), Raymond Zhang said it was his passion for education—even though his background has a strong engineering focus. He earned his BS in Industrial Systems Engineering at the University of Minnesota in 2018 and began his engineering career at The 3M Company as a Manufacturing Engineer.

However, it is his role as a Computer Science mentor at the University of Minnesota that sparked his interest in education. “I meet with current undergraduate students to discuss potential career paths in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Helping students recognize their passion for problem-solving while enhancing their career prospects is so gratifying.”

Although his role as a mentor spurred his interest in the value of education, it was his speech and debate coaching through the Minnesota Urban Debate League that really got him thinking about policy—specifically education policy.

“I advise a local Minnesota high school debate team of about 50 students. And as a researcher in the Minnesota Debate Teachers Association, I had the opportunity to conduct research on systemic bias in debate and served on the equity task force, a grassroots movement to address equity issues in the debate community.”

Zhang’s passion for teaching students translated to his desire to address equity and systemic issues that affect them. “My interest in education equity inspired me to learn more about public policy—especially education policy. The [DPSS] program at Harris seemed an ideal way to explore these interests—and get a taste of the graduate school experience at UChicago.”

Zhang said that even with his heavy background in statistics, the DPSS program provided him with important new analytical tools.  “It was such an enriching opportunity to work directly with Professor Austin Wright on his research, writing literature reviews and researching high impact journal publications on how illicit markets (opium production in this case) affects territory control within Afghanistan. I also really enjoyed peer review with my classmates—it is kind of like a puzzle trying to reverse engineer their thought process and then finding areas where we can use our data and newfound expertise to question assumptions. The data visualization skills have been invaluable as I seek to advance my career, the analytics have already proven useful in my coaching, and the DPSS experience really made me look forward to applying to grad school.”

Zhang also found the networks he built during DPSS invaluable. “I especially enjoyed getting to know everyone in the program, from the teaching staff to the students. After class, I would follow up with them to discuss the most interesting parts of the lessons, and having policy conversations with students from across the world was fascinating.”

“I would advise anyone interested in DPSS to attend a virtual session to learn more. The staff are incredibly helpful and engaged and will answer any questions you may have.” Overall, Zhang felt the DPSS program was the perfect blend of his expertise in the STEM field and his passion for educational equity. “The DPSS program was one of the only programs that had the emphasis I wanted: data-driven, highly analytical, but also in the field of social science. I don’t think there are many programs that offer that.”