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Bridging perspectives: the experience of being a Youth Data Analyst

This summer, I had the opportunity to work for St. Louis Park Public Schools through the Youth Data Analyst (YDA) program. Four peers and I spent the summer creating and conducting a research experiment based off of a question concerning our district and community. Through this process, we were given a chance to take autonomy over our learning and explore an undergraduate level research program.

Senior Ford Marciniak, one of the five YDA students, said YDA not only bonded him with his peers but pushed him to a new level academically. 

“Two of the pros I had this summer with YDA were the people I got to work with. We all got closer with each other by discussing topics that were new to me, eating really good food, and playing games! UNO will never be the same after YDA,” Marciniak said. “Another pro was going through the research process and seeing it go from start to finish. This project has been some of the most fleshed out and deep work I've done in an academic environment. I've carried not only what we learned about school systems with me, but that analytical lens towards life as well. I'm not sure I could think of a con to do with YDA itself, as I think it's a gold standard for a work environment, and I know my bar is going to be set unreasonably high after working with such an uplifting crew. The only con that comes to mind is with myself, and how I spent my time in YDA. If I could go back and do it again, I'd have been more engaged, especially with our readings as there was a lot to learn from the literature we read.”

Junior Jaiden Leary, another YDA intern, said YDA empowered his voice and changed his perspective on education. 

“The YDA experience has only upsides. The interaction and inside look I got within the district was eye opening,” Leary said. “On top of that the fact that I got to have a voice in change implications within the school was also profound.”

Marciniak said that while the work he did was informative, the course definitely pushed the interns at times.

“At times it was hard, this level of work was something that I hadn’t done before, especially in a group setting. Though everyone was diligent about the work they had, and communication was great in ensuring that we all knew what each one of us was working on, so I was confident I could do my part and everyone else seemed confident they could do theirs,” Marciniak said. “When we weren’t really getting anywhere with an approach to the research process, our mentors could see that and knew we needed to change things up. We didn’t waste any time, as meeting only two days a week meant we needed to get straight to business. It never felt rushed despite that, and we found plenty of time to focus on getting to know each other better and make it a meaningful experience.”

According to senior Estrella Ochoa, a YDA intern, the workload felt less strenuous because the content excited her.

“The workload wasn't bad and as someone who usually has trouble being motivated enough to get work done, YDA actually had me excited to work,” Ochoa said.

Marciniak said that working with his co-workers throughout the summer allowed him to hear new perspectives and share important stories.


“Most of the time I was in awe of those sitting at the table around me. Moments like discussing the racialized data and hearing a co-worker’s perspective was eye-opening at times,” Marciniak said. “There were things that as a white male student, I hadn’t experienced in my teacher-student relationships and was surprised to have heard such stories from fellow students. It was really powerful stuff and everyone approached each conversation with such fidelity and respect, a refreshing space that was new to me.”

Leary said that all students who have considered applying for YDA should take the leap, as everyone has a perspective to share.

“I would say to students considering it- no matter who you are, you have value,” Leary said. Your experiences and character have immense and irreplaceable value to the program.”

Marciniak said he encourages anyone interested in the program to apply, and to not stress about potential technical barriers to being involved with the internship.

“I seriously recommend you do this internship if you are at all interested in researching a topic, working in education/data-collection, or just need some spending cash over the summer. Since you only meet two days a week, it gives you plenty of free time, or an open schedule to work another job on top of it,” Marciniak said. “The accommodations were unbelievable, I was provided a taxi service completely free of charge that allowed me to get back and forth seamlessly from home to work, which I’m beyond grateful for. We got to go on field trips, have an unbelievable amount of food catered for free for us, explore the UMN Twin Cities campus, interview students from all across the St. Louis Park Schools, and built connections with some seriously smart people. It makes you look really good on college applications too which is always a plus. You’ll need to be able to show up and say what’s on your mind, as well as really listen as there are a lot of important things to get through and you can’t afford to constantly be playing catch-up. If you open yourself up to it, there’s a family to be found within YDA and it was really bittersweet walking away from it. If you’ve already read this far, then you must be interested in taking on the challenge; DO IT!”