Q&A with Congressional Fellows: Jennifer Ayscue
Q&A with Congressional Fellows: Jennifer Ayscue

July 2018

Tell us a little bit about your year on Capitol Hill, the issues that you covered, your responsibilities.

I served as a fellow in the offices of Senators Al Franken and Tina Smith. In both cases, I worked alongside the education policy advisor to cover the education portfolio from early childhood through higher education.

Can you describe a day in the life of a congressional staffer?

The day of a congressional staffer is full and fast-paced. Most of my days began with reading the news in order to be aware of anything occurring that was related to education. I frequently attended briefings on education issues, researched new policy ideas and existing legislation, and held meetings with constituents. I met with other education staffers, particularly those whose members served on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. I prepared materials to brief the senator and interacted with the senator on at least a weekly basis to provide information about legislation and oversight letters. I enjoyed staffing for the senator at meetings and HELP Committee hearings.

What was the most valuable thing that you learned from the experience? What is the most surprising thing that you learned while in DC?

There are many knowledgeable, dedicated members and staffers working incredibly hard to improve this country. They might not agree on how to do it, but most people with whom I interacted on the Hill genuinely aspire to serve the public.

What should education researchers know about the factors that go into education policy decisions?

Policy decisions are complex and often include consideration of the scientific evidence, the needs of the member’s state or district, the timing of other initiatives, and the priorities of the member and the caucus.

Based on your experience, what advice would you give to fellow education researchers about connecting their work to policy and sharing their research with policymakers?

First, timing is critical. It is important to be aware of what is on the horizon for the legislative agenda and to make contact with congressional offices before consideration begins regarding legislation relevant to your work. Second, identify the members whose priorities are well aligned with your work and establish relationships with those members’ offices so that when your expertise is needed, they know who to contact. Finally, communicate in a clear, concise manner. The Hill communicates through one pagers with key points, similar to abstracts. When more information is needed, staffers will dig deeper, but having your research accessible through a one-page document is helpful. Examples from the member’s state or district are also useful.

How might this experience shape your future research and career decisions?

My research examines the role of policy in shaping students’ access to diverse and equitable educational opportunities. This experience has helped me to more fully understand how the policies I study are actually developed. With this more thorough understanding of the policy process, I will be better able to develop clear, concrete policy recommendations and communicate my research to policymakers more effectively. I will use this experience as I begin my career as an assistant professor at North Carolina State University.

View Jennifer's short video about her experience

Jennifer Ayscue is research director for the Initiative for School Integration at the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at the University of California, Los Angeles. Ayscue earned her Ph.D. in education from UCLA in 2016. Her research examines how policy shapes the opportunities that students are able to access, and seeks to both understand and impact patterns of inequality and segregation that persist in schools across the nation. Ayscue, who worked in the office of Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), has accepted an assistant professor position in educational leadership and policy at North Carolina State University.

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