Last year, Devon Merz was in his business communication class when his professor announced that an internship was available with the KIPP Houston Public Schools. The organization wanted a student who could create a system to crunch data. Even though he was a freshman at the time, it sounded like a great opportunity and it was doing something he liked.
“I’ve always been interested in data analysis,” he explained. “I sent an email to KIPP Houston on a Thursday and I interviewed with them on Saturday.” He came out of that interview with the job.
Merz spent his summer creating queries in Microsoft SQL server to pull project-relevant information from KIPP’s data warehouse and aggregate metrics into interactive visualizations for KIPP’s instructional and managerial staff. Merz helped devise a system that would drill down to see how an individual student or teacher was performing in a certain subject.
“We could pull an individual student’s performance and attach it to a particular test or see how a teacher was improving across time,” he said. “That kind of data visualization helped the school hierarchy get a much more detailed feel for what was happening with student and teacher performance.”
He also created an overview of school acceptance metrics and fundraising objectives for all KIPP Houston schools. In addition, Merz built aptitude and year-over-year growth models for eight KIPP schools, which drills down to teacher and student-level details on the CIRCLE Progress Monitoring System standardized test. KIPP uses the CIRCLE test in all of its preschools to measure a child’s progress in skills like vocabulary, letter-sound correspondence and math.
Merz said that before he took the internship he’d had some experience with computer programming, but realized he needed to know more. He watched Khan Academy videos to shore up his skills, something he said turned out to be a good idea.
“I had a lot of free reign in my internship,” he said. “So, I got to make decisions about how to do what was necessary to make the project work. I’ve heard that sometimes in freshman internships, people might look over your shoulder a lot. That didn’t happen here.”
Merz is leaning toward majoring in electrical engineering with a specialization in data science, and said his experience over the summer allowed him to see what a career in the data science field would look like. He also recommends that freshman pursue internships as early as they can.
“During your freshman and sophomore years, you probably want to be doing internships that give you experience and expose you to what’s out there. By your junior year, it seems like you should be looking for internships that will be closer to what you want for a job.”
As for Merz, he’s already pursuing internship opportunities for next summer.