Student Profile: Alex Bird, MPA '19

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January 26, 2018

Alex Bird, M.P.A. and M.S.Ed '19, is a dual degree student, ImpactED Fellow, and recipient of a guaranteed admissions partnership scholarship by virtue of her time with Teach For America. In this interview, Alex discusses her life before Fels, her experience in the M.P.A. program, and her work as an ImpactED Fellow.

What were your professional experiences before you came to Fels?

In 2013, I graduated from Bucknell University and joined the Teach For America program in the Louisiana Delta. In my first year I taught fourth grade, and in my second year I looped with my students and taught fifth. I realized early on that although teaching probably wasn’t for me long-term, I was extremely interested in education policy, particularly in K-12 policies that perpetuate inequity. I knew that I needed to gain some experience outside of the classroom to understand more about the specific direction I wanted to take. So, after leaving the classroom, I went to work for the School District of Philadelphia, where I managed elementary teacher recruitment, selection, and placement processes across the city. In my experiences both in and outside of the classroom, I gained a deeper understanding of the vast differences in the types of educational experiences that children receive based on their zip code. I felt compelled to commit myself to improving educational outcomes for students who are systematically disadvantaged as a result of structural racism and de facto segregation. However, before Fels, I didn’t feel skilled enough to be effective at this work, which is why I knew I needed to go back to school to build practical skills like statistical analysis and budgeting.

How did you first get involved with Teach For America?

I applied to the program in the fall of my senior year of college after being contacted by a recruiter, who knew that I had some leadership roles in college and encouraged me to apply. I went through the application process and found out in very early January that I had been placed in rural Louisiana. I accepted the same day, and found myself moving to the South just a few months later.

When did you decide that you wanted to come to Fels, and why?

I came to a Fels information session two years ago, initially wanting to start a year earlier than I did. However, I realized that I wanted another year of work experience before applying, and I still wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted out of a graduate program. Eventually, it became clear to me that I was looking for a program that emphasized practical skills over theory. I remember hearing from a panel of students who were talking about projects they’d had in class and for internships and the impact they felt they were already having as first-year graduate students. That really stuck with me. After the session, a member of the Fels staff who knew about my interest in education connected me with a student in the dual M.P.A./M.S.Ed. (Master of Science in Education Policy) degree program, and we discussed his experience. After that, I knew I wanted to pursue the same course of study.

Has your experience at Fels lived up to your expectations so far?

Yes, absolutely. There are definitely certain things that I’m surprised to have enjoyed: for instance, I thought I would hate statistics, but it was probably my favorite class last semester. The concepts we learned are extremely useful, and especially for someone interested in education. We used education examples in class often, and I started to better understand relationships and trends people reference often. Also, last semester was pretty quantitatively heavy, which was definitely a challenge for me given my non-quantitative background. Overall, courses have been rigorous so far, but that is exactly what I hoped for.

You are an ImpactED Fellow. What does that work consist of?

I’m currently working on two projects. The first is with the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders, which revolves around assessing the impact of a principal professional development program that high performing principals in Philadelphia are undergoing, as well as assessing its impact on student achievement. The second project is with the Delaware Department of Education, for whom we are currently conducting a survey regarding hiring practices and trends in schools and districts across the state.

After Fels, what are you planning on doing/what do you hope to do?

I’m definitely still figuring that out. Broadly, serving children attending public schools in Philadelphia is my primary interest. I’m interested in local government and politics, too. I have also recently become interested in public sector consulting as a result of my work with ImpactED. Fortunately, my education at Fels seems like it will prepare me for whatever I end up doing. I recently starting interning with a congressional campaign, which I’m sure will help me decide whether politics is right for me -- ask me again this time next year -- maybe I’ll have a clearer idea!

 

Fels Institute of Government

The Fels Institute of Government
3814 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104

(215) 898-7326
felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu

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