Thursday, February 2, 2017

Rachel Schmitt - The Win-Win-Win Scenario

Rachel Schmitt is pursuing her Master’s in Evaluation Studies at the University of Minnesota. She is currently at the Minnesota Humanities Center as their in-house evaluator and Graduate Research Assistant. Rachel, who is native to Excelsior, Minnesota, also teaches English to adult non-native speakers and studies flamenco in her free time. She is fluent in Spanish and comes from a beautiful blended bilingual family. Rachel believes in the importance of community participation in decisions, and inclusion of absent narratives in education and evaluation.

Following 2016’s tumultuous election season and the ensuing months, I have been trying to reclaim the word “win.” Rather than a term with a shallow, holier-than-thou connotation, I am working on underscoring the essence of positivity that lies in “winning.” I want to get back to the burst of warmth that wraps around you after achieving something and working hard, and de-emphasize the fame and grandeur that comes with winning.

In reflecting on my role here at the Minnesota Humanities Center, it is truly a win-win-win situation. Here’s why:

I win:

I have the opportunity to develop and refine my evaluation skills at the Humanities Center. Not only is it a beautiful building with rich history, I get to interact with and learn from talented and insightful people. The Humanities Center is home to an astute staff well equipped to have evaluative conversations, which makes my role as an evaluation research assistant much easier.

I also ‘win’ because I have found the Humanities Center to be the ideal environment for the kind of evaluation that I hope to focus on in my career. I am drawn to the approaches known in the field as Utilization-Focused, Interactive, and Developmental Evaluation. Basically, this means that all the techniques and approaches I keep in my “evaluator toolkit” are relationship-driven, use-based (because what’s the point if the work isn’t going to be used?), and continuously evolving.

What’s more, I have had the chance to participate in some paradigm-shifting, deeply impactful programming like the Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives workshop, the Bdote Field Trip, and various Veterans’ Voices events. These experiences have both required and encouraged me to listen to authentic, courageous people, all while learning, unlearning, and relearning stories of place, privilege, and voice.

Finally, I win having an amazing professor who is my advisor as well as my mentor. My mentor is the quintessential teacher/role model, who deeply values people in the work she does. Her contagious passion for evaluation is what first steered me in the direction of this career. Her work and teachings in interactive evaluation practice continue to inspire me. My mentor is one of those rare gems you encounter in life. She is sincere and incredibly humble, all while blazing a beautiful trail for evaluators around the world to follow. It is quite the privilege to work alongside and learn from her.

My mentor wins:

And finally, if you were to ask her, my mentor would say she wins by having one of her advisees here working on the ground with the organization.

The Humanities Center wins:

With a new evaluator’s perspective and my developing skills, the Humanities Center wins, too. I hope that my energy and dedication to the work goes somewhere. I want to be asking the right questions. I want to develop my practice and use my heart, mind, and spirit to better understand the Humanities Center’s role in Minnesota’s legacy, and in the lives of those who are fortunate enough to be in relationship with this human-centered organization.

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