Q&A with Congressional Fellows: Kathryn Wentzel
Q&A with Congressional Fellows: Kathryn Wentzel

July 2018

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

Working in a House office required a broad knowledge of education policy issues. However, I worked mostly on legislation having to do with social and emotional learning, civic education, hunger and homelessness among college students, teacher stress, school discipline, and school transitions.

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

Each day is different, depending entirely on the news cycle, the congressman’s schedule, and other legislative actions currently under consideration. Typical activities might include writing letters, talking points, op-eds, or bill language; meeting with constituents; attending briefings; and researching issues.

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

Legislation happens very slowly, but decision making happens very quickly. Ninety-five percent of what happens has to do with messaging and values.

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

Policy decisions are made by individuals in agencies (such as the Secretary of Education in the Department of Education). Decisions are informed primarily by political agendas, although individuals and groups typically have the opportunity to comment on proposed policy changes.

Legislation is built around constituent needs and political agendas. Legislation can be influenced by research to the extent that the research directly addresses legislative issues. Researchers can contact and lobby or work with committee staff (e.g., the Committee on Education and the Workforce) or congressional staff.

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?

For research to be useful, it has to address specific aspects of policy and legislation. Thus, researchers need to be aware of current policy initiatives and legislative agendas and understand the political implications of their work.

Kathryn Wentzel is a professor of developmental science and educational psychology at the University of Maryland. She received her Ph.D. in psychological studies in education from Stanford University in 1987. Her research examines the social correlates and antecedents of adolescent motivation and achievement. This work includes a focus on teacher-student relationships and teacher supports. After her fellowship ends, Wentzel will return to her faculty position at the University of Maryland.

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