#CHBSChats with Andrea Pope

Read more about Andrea's research and internship opportunities in the assessment and measurement program


Series produced by: Morgan Bond
Creative Services Social Media Assistant

Andrea Pope

Tell us about the program in Assessment and Measurement.

The Assessment and Measurement (A&M) program trains students to measure cognitive and non-cognitive capacities—from clear-cut competencies like biology knowledge and writing skills to nebulous constructs like critical thinking, creativity and cultural diversity. We are also trained in higher education assessment: the process of evaluating whether colleges and universities are truly helping students learn and develop in desired ways.

One thing that sets the A&M program apart from other educational measurement programs is the applied nature of our studies and graduate assistanship (GA) work. We spend a lot of time learning about complex statistical analyses and measurement models, but that is balanced with direct consultation work with faculty and staff across campus. As we engage in our studies, we are encouraged to always consider the practical utility of our research.

What specific topics are you researching in your program? What made you interested in these topics?

My interests lean heavily toward the assessment side of the program. I consider questions such as “How can faculty and staff be trained to conduct meaningful assessment of student learning?”, “What systems must be in place to facilitate the use of assessment results to improve student learning?” and “How can theory and empirical evidence be used to develop strong educational interventions?”

My interest in higher education grew out of my own undergraduate experience. I focused on issues of access, equity and retention because I saw how transformative higher education could be, but also realized there were systematic differences in students’ experiences. In other words, college wasn’t a positive, transformative experience for everyone.

Over time, my interests have shifted from institutional indicators like to admission and retention rates to indicators of actual student learning and development. Essentially, I’ve come to realize it’s not enough that students of diverse backgrounds to attend college and get degrees. I want to make sure those degrees mean something; I want students to walk away with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful.

What are some professional development experiences you have been involved in as part of the program?

Given the applied focus of our work, one of the most valued skills in the A&M program is the ability to communicate complex ideas simply, clearly and compellingly. To practice this skill, faculty encourage us to present our work whenever possible. In the 2.5 years I’ve been in the program, I’ve given 10 presentations at local, national, and international conferences. I’ve also planned and facilitated assessment workshops to audiences both internal and external to JMU.

Can you tell us about your internship with Educational Testing Services?

ETS is a large testing company that strives “to help advance quality and equity in education by providing fair and valid assessments, research and related services.” During the remote internship, I completed two projects. The first was a study that explored what institutions across the U.S. are doing to develop and assess skills related to civic engagement and inter-cultural competency. From this study, I learned that although institutions believe civic engagement and inter-cultural competency are important, efforts to develop and assess these skills are in their infancy.

For the second project, I provided recommendations about what user support resources should be provided for two new non-cognitive assessments that were in the pilot phase at the time of my internship (the HEIghten Civic Engagement and Intercultural Competency modules). With this project, it was encouraging to see how much work ETS does to support users in not only collecting data, but also using the data in ways that are responsible, appropriate, and most likely to improve teaching and learning.

What did you learn from your internship that you can use in your research or future career?

From a career perspective, it was helpful to see how a large testing company runs. The average person would be shocked by how many steps—and people—are involved in creating assessments like the GRE. Although I don’t think large-scale testing is for me, I found it interesting to see what can (and can’t) be done with a large amount of resources.

I’ve also found my research on civic engagement and intercultural competency to be highly relevant in the current higher education climate, where the focus on non-cognitive skills has increased.

What have been the biggest challenges in pursuing your Ph.D.?

The biggest challenge for me has been research. Somehow I managed to get a bachelor’s and master’s degree without doing any serious research. My studies gave me a lot of practice with writing, but the first time I was asked to actually generate my own research questions (and plan a study to answer them—crazy) was the first year of my Ph.D. program. The shift from consuming research to producing it was hard for me. It requires a certain level of expertise, but also a healthy dose of inquisitiveness and creative thinking. Some days I feel like I don’t have any of those things. What helps me, however, is scheduling uninterrupted time to read and reflect on the literature in my field, independent of the readings I do for class or other research projects.

The other big challenge has been juggling the many expectations of graduate school—classes, research, GA work, conference presentations, internships, networking, service. It can sometimes feel like you’re being pulled in 10 different directions, which means you can’t give yourself fully to anything. I’ve had to become comfortable setting priorities and sticking to them. That means saying no sometimes. It also means I can’t give 100% to everything. Sometimes “good enough” has to be good enough

What do you plan to do after you’ve earned your PhD.?

I would like to either work at a university as a Director of Student Affairs Assessment or work in a higher education adjacent role that allows me to think about practical issues related to higher education assessment (e.g., assessment consulting, government work, etc.).


Just for fun...

  • Favorite thing to do in Harrisonburg?
    I absolutely LOVE Heritage Bakery for brunch on the weekends and nothing beats the Hideaway for drinks and intimate conversations with friends.

  • Favorite TV show?
    Right now, The 100 on Netflix is my not-so-guilty pleasure. #TeamOctavia

  • Are you a cat or dog person?
    Dog. Definitely dog. Cats are a mystery to me. How does catnip work? How do you train them to use a litterbox? Do they really stay inside their entire lives?

  • What is one thing you couldn’t live without?
    I’m trying not to be too literal with this question (clean drinking water for 500, Alex). Probably my headphones because they’re multipurpose. 1) They block out distractions when I’m trying to work in the office. 2) They deter people from talking to me in public (introverts unite). And my personal favorite, 3) I can use them to listen to Harry Potter audiobooks and the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat all day, every day.

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Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Last Updated: Thursday, January 23, 2020

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