Features

A Place For Sociologists in Policy

By Yunuen Rodriguez
CONTRIBUTOR

For a long time, I had been craving to see, feel and partake in significantly shifting our nation’s policy agenda. I had been wanting to shed light on social inequality in order to bring about policy that would bring to disadvantaged groups. This summer, I got nothing less.  Thanks to the generosity of the Office of International Education, the Liberal Arts in
Practice Center and the support of Dean Ann Davies and professor Georgia Duerst-Lahti, I was fortunate enough to engage in producing “real science” alongside Maurice P. During, professor of demographic studies and professor of sociology and public affairs alongside Marta Tienda at Princeton University. I helped her lay the ground work for her new research and upcoming presentation on “broadening the pipelines” to higher education for underrepresented groups. She will present this research at the end of the year to graduate school deans from around the country as a part of the
Council of Graduate studies.

As someone with a sociological imagination and a fervor to make opportunities available for disadvantaged communities, I was becoming disillusioned to learn that historically, very few sociologists have played an influential role in shaping federal policy, and the ones who have, have caused tremendous damage to Black and Brown communities, such as Daniel Moynihan. Interning with Professor Tienda was just the uplift I needed to
see that sociologists can, and do, play an influential role in our nation’s policy agenda. They have the power to generate research that attempts to diminish disparities, and in the case of my summer research, educational disparities. With licks from her spirited
puppy, Malita, I discussed my interests of immigrant incorporation and social inequality with Professor Tienda  — she had a special project in mind and put me to work right away. She had me research seven programs, such as the McNair Scholars Program
and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, which attempt to “pipeline” qualified students from underrepresented groups to Ph.D. programs in order to come up with a viable program that could be replicated to scale. I researched each one and met with
the directors of a few of these programs to gather data on their effectiveness. You’d be surprised at how little initiatives get evaluated. A lack of evaluation evinced the need for researchers. How do we really know our programs do what we want them to do if we don’t
accurately evaluate them?

I also engaged in creating a robust literature review on the success of research/mentoring programs and was surprised to find out that I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought about searches or citations! Elana, or “my personal librarian,” taught me how to carry
out in-depth searches, make full use of every database on the library’s website as well as others and make the APA citing manual 6th edition my best friend. I got to play with the statistical software of Stata via finding and merging variables to a longitudinal McNair
database I created in order to compare graduation, enrollment and retention rates across programs. Merely creating a sound database took about a week and a half. Since I interned with Professor Tienda for a only a month and learned that research requires a
lot of initial work, I didn’t get the chance to run cross tabs or regressions. Now I can say that I know, can meet the high standards of and have the tools to carry
out research.

My experience with Professor Tienda reveals that sociologists do have a role to play in federal policy. For example, she serves as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, and she’s been the leading
figure behind creating and evaluating the Texas ten percent rule, a rule that allows any high school student in the top ten percent of their class to be admitted to any university in Texas. Speaking with her every day, seeing her relentless pursuit of excellence and
drive to make educational opportunities available to underrepresented groups, hearing her talk about her role in the policy arena at a federal level, and helping her come up with a framework, an argument and policy recommendations based on data I helped
create. It revitalized my hopes of becoming a sociologist and continues to play an influential role in our nation’s policies. As I look to the near future, there’s no doubt I want to make policy, sociology, Professor Tienda and a puppy of my own, a part of my
years ahead.

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