Julianne Norman (MPIA '14)
I chose to spend my GSPIA summer internship 2013 in South Africa with a classmate, Alison Watterson. Funded by a Nationality Room Scholarship, we spent six weeks in a city called George, conducting a program evaluation for a local NGO, RealStart. A grassroots non-profit, RealStart runs a youth development program that provides under-privileged young people with a six-month training course that encompasses, résumé writing, interview prep, cooking, music, art, and sports classes, public speaking exposure, volunteer projects, and team building exercises. The program also incorporates group and individual mentor sessions designed to help students cope, in a healthy way, with the psychological issues that often arise in their impoverished and sometimes dangerous communities. After students complete the six-month course, RealStart pairs each student with a local business for a six-month internship. Those students wishing to attend university receive special guidance on entrance exam preparation and how to apply to the schools they would like to attend. In providing its youth with life and work skills that they would normally not have the chance to learn, RealStart also seeks to contribute to local economic development in George.
Eager to put our first year of GSPIA work into practice, Ally and I asked RealStart what they needed. In response, their CEO requested we conduct a program evaluation for the organization. RealStart was founded in 2011 and had graduated three cohorts. However, the youth development program had never evaluated their operations, or their theory model. Ally and I had no prior training in evaluation, but we thought working with RealStart would be a great first-hand experience. We arrived in South Africa with evaluation books and lecture slides passed down from classmates. Once we settled in, we began teaching ourselves evaluation. We spent our workdays at RealStart and studied at night. When it came time to perform the evaluation, we decided we were best equipped to do a qualitative analysis. We began by designing interview questions for staff, current students, former students and the Board of Directors. During the remaining weeks, we conducted interviews. On occasion, we even had to wander through the streets of George to track down former students to conduct a meeting! Once we completed the interview phase, we compiled and categorized responses for a presentation in front of RealStart staff.
Upon returning to GSPIA, we both enrolled in two program evaluation courses and began to offer program evaluation services to a host of other nonprofits working in Haiti, Iraq, and Cameroon through an organization we began, Watterson Dupont. Ally and I still consult with RealStart and hope to help them begin a branch in the States. This summer internship took me to a new place in Africa, revealed my talent for program evaluation, and extended a friendship into a business partnership.