Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Friday, August 7, 2020

Martinchek champions families’ well-being at Urban Institute

Kassandra Martinchek Kassandra Martinchek

As Kassandra Martinchek (MPA ’19) marked her one-year anniversary at the Urban Institute, she reflected on her efforts promoting evidence-based, actionable solutions for household financial well-being and food security.

Martinchek appreciates Urban’s focus on producing policy recommendations for policymakers and practitioners. She particularly enjoyed working on the publication Effective Programs and Policies for Promoting Economic Well-Being: Lessons from the Financial Security, Housing, Workforce Development, and Case Management Fields.

“We worked to make the report accessible for food bank staff members and practitioners,” she said. “I was chosen to present the report because of my experience with food banks. I got to talk to a lot of agency leaders.”

Before attending the La Follette School, Martinchek worked for the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, and Siena College as an AmeriCorps volunteer. Her three years as a nonprofit practitioner in Albany, NY, focused on several projects to promote child and family welfare.

“I saw how low-income families face financial tradeoffs and have to make difficult decisions about meeting their needs,” Martinchek said. “The benefits system can be siloed and difficult for families to access. As someone implementing programs, I saw the limits of benefits systems and felt that policy was often divorced from families’ needs.”

This budding interest in policy led Martinchek to the La Follette School, where she pursued coursework in quantitative methods. “My role as a practitioner was to implement and evaluate programs,” she said. “Before attending the La Follette School, I received a lot of on-the-job training in qualitative methods.”

To bolster these skills, Martinchek sought opportunities to use coding and apply analytical methods to real-world programs. She highlighted the La Follette School’s Advanced Statistical Methods, Cost-Benefit Analysis, and Program Evaluation courses along with political science courses in Quasi-experimental Methods (Educational Psychology) and Spatial Econometrics (Political Science) as particularly useful.

Martinchek’s La Follette School capstone project evaluated the administration of Wisconsin’s Income Maintenance Program, and for Cost-Benefit Analysis, she co-authored a report on Rhode Island’s Nutrition Incentive Program.

Also at the La Follette School, Martinchek worked with the Wisconsin Family Impact Seminars, where she co-authored several publications. “I really enjoyed working with the Family Impact Seminars, and I apply a lot of what I learned there to my work now,” she said. “I saw how research is used by legislators and learned how to determine what information is valuable for them and how to communicate it.”

Martinchek, who has written several articles during her first year at the Urban Institute, remains passionate about social policy.

“Policies are a reflection of the value system you hold,” she said. “And embedded in the investments we make are judgments of who is deserving of services. In our current system, many people fall through the cracks. Policies should meet families’ needs and applied policy research should work to build evidence to help policymakers and practitioners make this a reality.”

Martinchek holds dual bachelor’s degrees in international studies and Spanish, and a minor in values, ethics, and social action from Allegheny College.