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The Internship Program Showing Students What’s Beyond the Data

News Type College News

Sarah Stouffer-Lerch, left, presents the results of her data science project to Ohio Housing Finance Agency’s Devin Keithley, senior research data analyst (center), and Chelsea Buckwalter, director of research and analytics.

By Caroline Stollar

At an internship through the Ohio Education Research Center at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, undergraduate Sarah Stouffer-Lerch discovered how data can translate into solutions that help people.


Stouffer-Lerch, a public policy analysis student, participated in the Public Sector Data Science Internship Program through the Ohio Education Research Center (OERC) last summer. The program, a collaboration of the OERC, Glenn College and the CHRR (Center for Human Resource Research), pairs rising juniors and seniors with a state agency, allowing them to connect to the real world the data analytics skills they gain in the classroom.

At a monthly staff meeting for her internship at the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA), a co-worker discussed Save the Dream Ohio, a program Stouffer-Lerch had been working with all summer. Her co-worker shared how a friend had recently received funding from the program, which provides support for homeowners whose financial stability has been impacted by the pandemic, and expressed her gratitude for the relief it would provide. From her colleagues in the room, Stouffer-Lerch felt a sigh, as if to say, “all of this work was worth it.”

A fourth-year student, Stouffer-Lerch was one of five interns in the 2022 OERC summer program.

“Interns come in with what they’ve learned in their data science classes and transfer that theory into a real world, pertinent issue that a state agency is having,” OERC Research Associate Ceanna Burnheimer said.

Interns are matched based on what skill sets fit the agency’s problem to ensure they can succeed in their placement, which also considers students’ interests.

For Stouffer-Lerch’s Save the Dream Ohio project at the OHFA, she examined data to understand who applies for the program and how to ensure the program reaches people who may need it but are not applying. She also organized the data for internal use, making it more user-friendly.

“Sarah’s project helped us take a closer look at geographic and demographic trends of those currently receiving Homeowners Assistance Fund mortgage and utility assistance so that we could determine where we were meeting needs and where opportunities still existed. This was extremely beneficial to OHFA as it allowed us to adjust outreach efforts and make decisions based on what we were seeing in the data,” said Chelsea Buckwalter, OHFA director of research and analytics.

Stouffer-Lerch began her internship with little to no coding experience. One of the most challenging aspects was understanding R, a statistical computing and graphics program. She learned new programs to analyze data, one of the most challenging parts of her internship, and Tableau, another data visualization software used by many government agencies.

“It was really interesting to jump in with both feet right away to learn this complicated program that I had never been exposed to before. It was also gratifying to go from nothing to making some simple graphs or visualizations,” Stouffer-Lerch said.

She now feels more confident in her ability to conduct heavy research. And hearing how the program impacted her co-worker’s friend, she understands how this work goes beyond data and helps actual people. The internship inspired Stouffer-Lerch to further consider a career in government.

“The internship taught me a lot both in terms of housing and what it means to be a government employee,” Stouffer-Lerch said, “and what it means to serve people in this way.”

Learn more about the Public Sector Data Science Internship Program.

Caroline Stollar is a fourth-year student double-majoring in public management, leadership and policy and strategic communication. She is a student assistant with the Glenn College advancement team.

Read the latest edition of Public Address, the Glenn College magazine.