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Using Data for Good

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Ellen Schenk (MPP, '21) applied her math and economics background to public policy research benefiting Delawareans, gaining incredible real-world experience in the process

Ellen Schenk wearing a University of Delaware long-sleeved t-shirt, standing against a bay of windows.

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Through the Biden School, Ellen contributed to applied research projects ranging from the economic impact of community arts programs, the environmental impacts of electrifying marine ports, and the health impacts of long-acting reversible contraceptives​. 

When Ellen Schenk (MPP, '21)​, a Connecticut native, was looking for colleges—University of Delaware rose to the top. Between the small class sizes offered in the Honors College and the research opportunities available to undergraduate students—Ellen knew she would thrive at UD.

“I walked into a class on the first day, and it was only 20 students. That was amazing,” said Schenk. “Being in the Honors College made a big campus seem a lot smaller. I was able to make connections with honors faculty professors and have enriching discussion-based classes, and those faculty relationships led to references.”

Fast forward five years and Schenk is graduating from the 4+1 Master of Public Policy (MPP) Program this May. The new MPP 4+1 program enabled Schenk to earn both a dual bachelor’s degree in math and economics and public policy and her MPP in 5 years instead of 6—all while contributing to a portfolio of research projects with advisors Troy Mix​, Associate Director of the Institute for Public Administration (IPA) and Katie Fitzpatrick, Associate Professor in the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration.

Finishing her sophomore year, Schenk looked for an opportunity to apply the analytical skills of her math and economics degree to public policy. She applied and was accepted into the Biden School’s Summer Public Policy Fellow Program in 2018 to work on economic development research with Mix at IPA. Schenk worked as a Public Administration Fellow with IPA through Spring 2020.

During that time, Schenk conducted research to assess the economic and non-economic impacts of The Freeman Stage in Sussex County, which, according to the report “included quantitative estimates of the employment and spending contributions that The Freeman Stage makes to Sussex County and qualitative assessments of the cultural impacts made by The Freeman Stage performances and its Arts in Education Program.” In addition to contributing to the report, Schenk presented her findings to the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation Board and learned how to translate complex research into key takeaways for the general public.

Schenk contributed to a diverse set of applied research projects at IPA, including working with the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment to model the economic and environmental impacts of electrifying operations at marine ports around the country. She also cataloged​ municipal and state agency uses of GIS for a project to better coordinate public sector geospatial activities in Delaware.

These opportunities enabled Schenk to hone her skills utilizing Excel, conducting web-based research, and cleaning data. Working on a team challenged Schenk to keep her files and data organized. Asking herself, “If you win the lottery and leave the organization, can people follow your work?” Conducting research in a variety of policy areas while working with IPA improved her analytical abilities.

“I felt a lot more efficient. Even though I wasn’t searching the same things, I knew the best practices,” Schenk said.

Schenk’s time with IPA also led to an internship opportunity with the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness (CREC) in Arlington, Virginia. CREC is an independent, 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization founded to provide policy-makers from around the world with the information and technical assistance they need to formulate and execute innovative, regional, job-creating economic strategies. Through a networking connection from Mix, Schenk learned of a summer research opportunity with Allison Forbes, CREC’s Vice President of Research.

“Ellen’s strong analytical skills, her thoughtful approach to teamwork and presentation, her proactive communication and curiosity made her an immediate asset,” said Forbes. “During her time with CREC, Ellen made important contributions to a national report on the shifting landscape of academic and professional credentials and helped the team collect and triangulate information on credentials related to healthcare and nursing to generate new data views and observations and demonstrate how our unique database could help to elucidate how credentialing trends reflect changes in sector specific career pathways.”

It was clear to Forbes that Schenk’s prior research experience with IPA, in addition to her academic program, had prepared her well to work with CREC.

“Ellen’s strong training in economics and policy prepared her well to live blog our summer conference speakers series at the start of her summer internship,” said Forbes.

After working with CREC to analyze healthcare credentialing, Schenk sought out an opportunity to apply her data analytics skills to health policy research. Fortunately, Katie Fitzpatrick, Biden School Associate Professor and Director of the MPP program, needed a research assistant for an ACCEL Grant studying long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), intrauterine devices (IUDs), and implants.

During her final year of study, Schenk reviewed Medicaid data to analyze the relationship between LARC and sexually transmitted infections. The research team hypothesizes that women who receive LARC are more likely to participate in risky behavior and get a sexually transmitted infection.

As a true public servant, Schenk has found opportunities to share her knowledge. Forbes confirmed, “Ellen was also eager to help update the skills of CREC staff, tutoring us on how to access and use IPUMS data for occupational analyses.”

Schenk also hosted seven workshops on using Excel and Stata for Biden School students throughout the 2020-21 school year, including tips for data management and using pivot tables.

Schenk wanted a college where she could jump into research and take ownership—she found that at the University of Delaware, in the Honors College and the Biden School. Now that she’s graduating, she’s looking for an opportunity to continue research in health policy, “Especially the intersection between access to health care and race and socioeconomic issues,” she said.

This summer, Schenk will continue her research for Dr. Fitzpatrick while applying to jobs. Without a doubt, she’s prepared for the next challenge.


Article by Sarah Pragg

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Ellen Schenk (MPP, '21) applied her math and economics background to public policy research benefiting Delawareans, gaining incredible real-world experience in the process.
6/3/2021
6/3/2021
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Using Data for Good