Gina Pham, MPA ’19

CHILDREN AT RISK, Houston, Texas

Before coming to MIIS, I had already accumulated nearly three years working as a Regional Operations Manager for a small nonprofit. I wore many different hats in that role ranging from emergency on-call crisis management to pre-departure training for high school students; from planning and facilitating Board of Directors and Trustees meetings to collecting and updating our database with federal and state-required nonprofit documents; from business trips throughout the Western United States to work trips throughout Latin America and beyond.

In my first year at MIIS, I gained knowledge I could not easily gain on-the-job from Finance Functions to Data Analysis and more. Therefore, when I sought a summer internship, I wanted to hone my newly-acquired Data Analysis skills and thus got an internship with CHILDREN AT RISK’s (a Houston-based nonprofit that focuses on research and advocacy for children’s rights) Center for Social Measurement and Evaluation (CSME).

My deliverable summarizes the data analysis I did for the CSME team this summer, focusing on two main projects: program evaluation for the Houston Food Bank’s pilot Food For Change Program, and initial data entry and descriptive statistics of the new Districts of Innovation House Bill that allows Texas school districts to innovate outside Texas Education Codes to see if any innovations should lead to system-level improvements for education across Texas.

In addition to practicing data analysis skills this summer, which I now have more confidence in doing for my future nonprofit career, I also gained invaluable insight into another small nonprofit. Whereas my previous nonprofit work was direct-service (interacting with stakeholders on a regular basis), my summer at CHILDREN AT RISK exposed me to the kind of work that a research and advocacy-based (indirect-service) nonprofit does. I asked many questions of the staff and board members regarding their personal motivations while working in system-level change rather than as boots on the ground as I had previous experience in, and I better learned what best motivates me. While I believe system-level change and advocacy are essential and am glad that there are organizations out there doing this important work, I learned that I am most motivated by direct-service interaction with stakeholders and should seek this when conducting my career search.

Fortunately, CHILDREN AT RISK partners with many direct-service nonprofits around Houston, many of which may not have the funding or bandwidth to have their own in-house M&E staff so CHILDREN AT RISK can help with their program evaluation. CHILDREN AT RISK generously provided their interns with field trips to various partner agencies such as the Houston Food Bank, Newcomer Immigrant School, Wesley Community Center, and even the Texas State Capitol throughout the summer so we got behind-the-scenes glimpses into what other social change organizations in Houston are doing.

Therefore, I would say that the most helpful aspect of my internship actually was not the data analysis-related experience (though that was very useful as well) but rather the visits to multiple social change organizations this summer that gave me a better understanding of the type of work I should seek after graduation. Because while I can gain new skills from personal exploration, MIIS, internships, online videos and more, it is not as simple to explore multiple organizations behind the scenes. While my full-time job search post-MIIS is equally daunting as it is exciting, my internship with CHILDREN AT RISK pointed me in many new directions that I did not see as clearly before; and I have much more confidence exploring these new possibilities.

“Interns front and center at CHILDREN AT RISK-hosted press conference.”

Click here to view Gina’s “CHILDREN AT RISK Work” presentation

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