Winter Institute Using Data to Assess, Promote Program Effectiveness

by Rachel E. Anderson

To illustrate the effectiveness of William Winter Institute programs and to continue to improve them, the Institute recently collaborated with the Center for Population Studies (CPS) and the Dr. Maxine Harper Center for Educational Research and Evaluation (CERE) at the University of Mississippi.

With guidance from John J. Green, CPS director, and Lori A. Wolff, director of CERE, the Winter Institute has begun employing innovative data assessment to demonstrate the efficacy of our Summer Youth Institute and other work.

Wolff attended the 2015 Summer Youth Institute (SYI) parent orientation and joined the group on a trip to Philadelphia, Mississippi. Afterward, she mentioned a typical misperception about evaluation.

“People think of evaluation as being some sort of quantitative function where there needs to be numbers and surveys with the Likert scale,” referring to the common data assessment tool that allows individuals to express how much they agree or disagree with a given statement. “Yes, there is some value in that…. [B]ut [the Winter Institute] can also focus on what they could do qualitatively to tell the story and the experience that people are having,” explained Wolff.

For years, the Institute has collected data through asking students a series of questions during daily debriefing sessions.

“There [are] different ways you can measure, both quantitatively and qualitatively, to see that you’re meeting goals, and so you can share them with a foundation or the public in general to tell them what is going on,” Wolff said.

The data from SYI and other academic work is now being assessed and translated to share with funders, parents, and other interested parties. Evaluations can be very useful: Logic models can display the impacts and effectiveness of Winter Institute programs, and with a community-based approach, future impacts can be shown.

With a comprehensive assessment and evaluation plan, the Institute can follow SYI students and the projects they develop in their communities to see short- and long-term effects. Long-term studies can include following up on projects’ effectiveness, seeing influences SYI students have had on their communities, and observing whether SYI students uphold the values and goals of the program as years pass.

Through continued evaluation, the Winter Institute will ensure not only that the Summer Youth Institute remains a vital tool to develop Mississippi’s future leaders in both service and learning, but also that we can effectively convey SYI’s many benefits to our financial supporters.

Rachel E. Anderson is a junior broadcast journalism and Spanish double-major at the University of Mississippi from Chesapeake, VA.

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