Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, August 19, 2009

'09 grad returns to New York City as education analyst


Holly Bedwell started her job as a policy and data analyst with New York City's Department of Education several weeks after graduating.

Alum shares job hunting advice

One of Holly Bedwell's career goals was to have a job lined up by graduation. To accomplish this, she started in November to apply for jobs, including policy positions outside education policy. Interviews commenced in January. "My entire second year very much focused on getting a job," Bedwell says, adding that she did not receive offers for several positions, and she turned down two, including another with New York City.

She encourages students to start applying early because the process can take so long. She applied for the New York jobs in March, interviewed in April and received offers in May with start dates in June.

While having job offers on the table when some of her classmates were still looking was sometimes awkward, Bedwell thinks that timing and her work experience played out in her favor — and she appreciated that she was the only one looking for work in New York City, so she never felt a sense of competition. "There are a lot of very intelligent and impressive individuals at La Follette," she says. "Everyone has very impressive résumés and experiences, and they will do well in the end."

Holly Bedwell is delighted to be confronted with child abuse, homelessness, and school suspensions and attendance problems — and to be back in Brooklyn after four years in Wisconsin.

Bedwell started as a policy and data analyst with New York City's Department of Education's Office of School and Youth Development several weeks after graduating in May with a Master of Public Affairs degree. She has worked on suspension and occurrence reports for principals and schools, a project the mayor initiated to cut down on school crime, and a review to evaluate incident reporting and principals. In addition, she has created a database for the Harvard Equity Analysis Project and fulfilled requests for information from parents and community members interested in equity issues.

"In addition to creating queries and reports, I have analyzed attendance data to evaluate the effectiveness of an attendance improvement program," Bedwell says. Most of her work is done in database software Excel and Access, and she is spending the summer learning Crystal Reports, an application that designs and generates reports from multiple data sources.

Bedwell counts herself fortunate to have an education policy job in a city where she once taught eighth-grade math in a public school for three years and has friends. "My intention was always to work towards improving public education, and I feel very lucky that this position opened when it did," she says.

Before she came to Wisconsin, Bedwell was a New York City teaching fellow for three years in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn while she earned a master's degree in education the City University of New York–Brooklyn College. She then spent two years collecting and coding Wisconsin child support data for the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She traveled to 21 Wisconsin county courthouses collecting child support and visitation data for the Court Record Data Project.

The experience helped prepare Bedwell for her La Follette courses and job with the Office of School and Youth Development. "While the IRP position did not allow for much data analysis, it did provide a solid foundation in data collection, coding, cleaning and management using SAS software in the UNIX environment," she says.

She also appreciated the emphasis on social policy and the context the fieldwork created. "It's very easy to get caught up in the technical side when you're dealing with numbers and data, but it's important to remember that in most policy areas, we're dealing with unique individuals who do not always fit into a 'neat' category," says Bedwell, who continued at IRP as a project assistant after she enrolled at La Follette. "After teaching in a low income neighborhood, I quickly realized that children and families need social supports in place to do well in school, such as stable housing and employment, access to health care, healthy food, transportation, and child care."

Bedwell's time at La Follette helped her figure out her professional strengths and weaknesses and settle on the next direction for her career. "I also learned to be more discerning about various policy areas by looking at the evidence and considering every perspective, including the winners and losers," she says. "As an analyst, you have to put your opinions aside and create a story based on the evidence and data. La Follette taught me how to do that."