After teaching in the Philadelphia public schools through Teach for America, earning her Master’s degree in Urban Education from Penn’s Graduate School of Education, and managing college access programming, Elaine Leigh wanted a chance to see the changes in education firsthand. Through her internship at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization focused on policy that affect college access and completion for unrepresented students, Elaine has been able to do just that. A first year PhD student in Higher Education, Elaine hoped to gain experience in “hardcore policy research and analysis,” making this position an excellent fit.
What areas of public policy interest you?
I am very education focused, but from my perspective, education policy is so interdisciplinary. I think workforce development issues, social welfare, family services, and health service policy all interrelate, and I am interested in their interconnections with education policy.
What is the first thing you do when you get to the office every morning?
One of my tasks each week is to do the weekly newsletter about postsecondary data. I get emails from many different listservs (Department of Education, the Health, Education, and Labor Committee, Politico, AASCU, Lumina Foundation, etc.), so the first thing I do is read through all the headlines in my inbox and screen for articles about improvements or changes to postsecondary data. It keeps me up to date on everything that’s going on in higher education policy.
What does a typical day in DC look like for you?
I feel like my answer is not going to be very fun, if I’m being honest, because I’m still doing projects with my GSE advisor. We have deadlines, so over the past month that I’ve been here, I’ve essentially just been going home after work and working on those. I plan to check out different areas of the city, find new restaurants, catch more shows at U Street Music Hall, and visit a few of the museums.
Have there been any surprises regarding living and working as an intern in DC?
I don’t know if I expected this or not, but seeing how all these organizations that seem separate are working together and collaborating on lots of different committees, seeing that busyness and the actions it takes to create that action is eye opening.
Name one object that you brought with you to DC that reflects your personality.
Because I need a way to destress, I brought things that relax me – so a bluetooth speaker for music and incense to create a calming ambience.
In 30 years, what will you remember about living and working in DC?
I think with a lot of what’s going on politically right now, with the House sit-in over gun control and the Orlando shootings, being in this space shocks and amazes me. I think I’ll remember that feeling of, wow, this is where so many influential decisions get made, and being one small piece of it. It can be quite inspiring. There’s no other place that’s going to give you that feeling.