Faculty Spotlight: Interview with Andrea Bueschel, PhD

Faculty Spotlight: Interview with Andrea Bueschel, PhD

By Kristin McCann
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Q: Tell us about your current role with the Spencer Foundation. 

A: My title is associate vice president, but essentially I am the chief program officer at Spencer, which is a foundation that invests in education research with the goal of making education better. I oversee all of our grant programs and program officers, which uses both my research training and management experience. I appreciate that I get to learn new things every day by doing things like reading proposals on different topics and coming up with ideas with my colleagues to develop new programs that we hope will improve education—from early childhood to postsecondary and adult retraining.

Q: How did you build your career in higher education policy? 

A: I was fortunate to get experience early on both in developing and implementing policy as an admission officer in my first professional job and to study policy and make recommendations for improved policy effectiveness and alignment later in my career. As an admission officer, I worked at an institution that had an optional SAT submission policy. Very quickly I became aware of the implications of this policy ... My subsequent research in graduate school built on this experience and focused on high school to college transition policies and alignment, with a personal focus on first generation college students. At the end of my doctoral program, I was also fortunate to be chosen to work with a cohort of other midcareer higher education researchers and policy makers by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

Q: Why, in your view, is it important for higher education professionals to have an understanding of how policy impacts their practice? 

A: Higher education professionals are likely to encounter policy issues from multiple sides—whether it is analyzing existing institutional policy that may no longer be effective, responding to federal policy mandates, or working with students who have expectations for new policy in an area yet unanticipated. In each case, I think that someone who has studied not just higher education policy topics but the process of analyzing policy will be better equipped to be responsive and proactive in addressing the many policy issues she will encounter in the course of her work in higher education.

Q: What advice would you have for students wanting to build a career in higher education policy? 

A: I think that many of the skills that make someone a good policy analyst or policy maker are in line with what makes her a good researcher or administrator: an ability to make sense of lots of wide-ranging information, an awareness of different parties or stakeholders and their beliefs, knowledge of different levels of a system, and strong decision making skills. What makes policy analysis different is the lens you bring and the questions you ask. Successful policy is not created in the abstract; context matters. As I tell my students all the time, policy is messy! Of course I find it exciting and interesting as well, and if there are students interested in getting experience with policy analysis and policy creation their best opportunities are likely to be in a policy center at a university, a think tank that does policy research and analysis, or in state or federal government starting as a general analyst or as a staffer on an education committee.

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