The Ohio Education Research Center — a collaborative of the John Glenn College and the Center for Human Resource Research — offers the Public Sector Data Internship Program for students interested in exploring careers in policy research and evaluation. Students receive instruction on data based methods to investigate policy problems, and work at a state agency in Columbus for the summer. The program allows students to discover the exciting work that the Ohio Education Research Center and its affiliate partners are engaged in, and gives students practical experience with theory they learn in college classes. This summer we have 5 interns participating in the program. To highlight their hard work and dedication this summer, the OERC will be featuring each of our summer interns.

Our next intern of the week is Sarah Stouffer-Lerch. Ms. Stouffer-Lerch is interning with the Ohio Housing Finance Agency analyzing their Homeowners Assistance Fund data. Her reflections on the internship are shared below:

My name is Sarah Stouffer-Lerch, and I am a rising senior at OSU majoring in Public Policy Analysis. Throughout this summer, I have been interning at the Ohio Housing and Finance Agency’s (OHFA) Office of Housing Policy, a position I received through OSU’s Public Sector Data Science Internship Program, which is facilitated by the Ohio Education Research Center (OERC).

Having just completed my junior year, I was looking for a summer internship where I could learn more about how public agencies use data analysis to make decisions. Last summer I interned at a cultural heritage institution using primary sources to learn about historical housing policy, a project that culminated in publishing an article about a 60+ year old housing authority in Missouri. My placement at OHFA has been a great nexus between these two interests, combining both data analytics and policy research.

At OHFA, my research is centered on Homeowners Assistance Fund (HAF) data, a program established to prevent negative housing outcomes (such as mortgage delinquencies) caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since HAF funds are given to states and administered by individual agencies, my supervisors wanted me to analyze whether OHFA was reaching the populations it needed to reach; research that would directly benefit the program and improve its efficacy. I am primarily using R and Tableau to conduct this analysis. The most challenging part for me was learning R, but it has gotten easier to work with simply by putting in the work.

Aside from my HAF research, I have been able to attend OHFA meetings, which allow me to see how my work in the Office of Housing Policy connects to the work being done in other OHFA offices as well as the agency as a whole.

The most unique thing about OERC’s Public Sector Data Sector Internship Program, and one of my favorite aspects, is that, in addition to working at my assigned agency Monday - Thursday, Fridays are reserved for a weekly wrap-up session with all the other interns involved in the program. Each intern is assigned to a different agency, so Fridays provide invaluable time to engage with and learn from each other by hearing what the other interns are working on.

Now over halfway through my internship experience, I would definitely recommend this program to anyone interested in working with data, especially in a public policy context. Even if you do not have extensive experience with data programs like R, Stata, or Tableau, you will learn a lot just by going through this program. This program not only gives you real experience working with an agency, but also provides you with the right amount of guidance so you can succeed with whatever your research project is. Whether or not you decide to enter the public sector, you will get a lot of invaluable experience that you can carry into your future career.

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