Skip to main content
MAEC Posts

Blog

MAEC Internship – Vo Ram Yoon

MAEC has been lucky to have a thriving internship program with dedicated, enthusiastic interns who share our passion for education equity. In fact, some have permanently joined our MAEC team full time! We interviewed previous MAEC intern Vo Ram Yoon on what education equity means to him and his experience here at MAEC. Vo now works as a consultant to MAEC from South Korea.

Tell us about yourself.

My full first name is Vo Ram, but I go by Vo! Even though I’m Korean, I was born and raised in Bolivia and consider Spanish to be my first language. Home, for me, has also been the chilly winters of Chicago where I attended college, the vibrant streets and ancient shrines of Tokyo where I worked in curriculum development for 4 years, and the mountains I have hiked in South Korea where I currently live. As someone whose love language consists of sharing pdfs with others, my interests in education research and Asian American studies have been shaped by Black, Indigenous, and Asian American scholars such as Eve Ewing, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, and Tamara Nopper. I’m grateful for the abolitionists Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Mariame Kaba, who have played an integral role in shaping my values. Lastly, as Audre Lorde says, poetry is not a luxury and I often enjoy taking a pause to enjoy some lines of poetry. 

Why do you choose to work in education equity?

Having grown up in Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in South America, I became aware of inequity in education at an early age when I wondered why I got to have access to a school that provided an American-style curriculum whereas other children did not get to learn English or even attend school at all. For some families, investing in a child’s education is viewed as secondary to having children provide for the family, particularly for families in rural areas. I ended up moving to South Korea after completing elementary school in Bolivia, where I learned a completely different education system with other varied inequities.

In hyper-competitive South Korea, there’s a saying that goes along the lines of how sleeping more than 5 hours each night will reduce your chances of making it to university at all. In this case, inequity manifests as a gap where some families are able to send their children to cram schools that will prepare them for the suneung, a high-stakes standardized test that is required for college admissions. Other families go so far as to enroll their children in elite private schools in the U.S. or other Western nations. My family could not afford either, so I was placed on the metaphorical hamster wheel of the Korean education system with fewer resources compared to others. My view on education (in)equity was further expanded when I moved to Chicago for college and saw firsthand how racial and socioeconomic segregation were deeply intertwined with public schooling. In short, my dedication to working in education equity was first defined by my international experiences and then shaped by my desire to create a world where all kinds of learners have the opportunities to access an empowering, liberatory education.

What does education equity mean to you?

My perspective on education equity is based on a question that Dr. Eve Ewing pitched in a talk on what a school means, where she asked: “How do I show the most love and nurturing tenderness to this magical human and to give them whatever they need for their brain to [learn]?”, which is a magical process to witness among children! Her question connects to what she calls “expanded accountability.” Under this framework, the failures of schools are not placed on families and youths, but rather on the larger policies that surround them and affect their well-being. Transportation policy is what enables children to get to school safely and access off-campus learning opportunities. Health policy should provide children with the aid they need to be able to focus on their academics without ignoring their physical needs. Economic policy should avoid scenarios where parents have to choose between going to work to afford food or staying at home to support their children, a scenario that resonates with many employed parents who could not help facilitate Zoom learning for their children during the pandemic. 

Education equity means tying all these kinds of policies together such that they essentially fall under education policy. When we dare ourselves to boldly imagine the kinds of conditions that would be necessary for any child to learn, everything else falls into place to create a fairer society where unjust policies are abolished and replaced with what abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore refers to as “life-affirming institutions.”

What do you do as an intern at MAEC?

As part of the Evaluation team at MAEC, I conduct quantitative data analysis by analyzing data sets provided by nonprofits and school districts to find any patterns of identity-based disproportionality and creating accompanying data visualizations. I also engage with qualitative methods by assisting with focus groups and coding transcripts to identify recurring themes that correspond to our research questions. At later stages in the evaluation process, I help with sharing our findings with our clients through reports and presentations. As a fluent Spanish speaker, I also assist with the occasional translation of consent forms and the like when needed. 

What’s been a highlight of your experience at MAEC?

Since June 2021, I have supported MAEC with the process evaluation and equity audit of the Baltimore Summer Funding Collaborative. It has been a great opportunity to apply the quantitative and qualitative research skills that I gained from my coursework at the Harvard Graduate School of Education while also learning about the dynamic field of philanthropy. Since the project was still in its early stages as I was getting onboarded, I got to experience what it was like to review research protocols and design a survey in conjunction with the clients, which requires a level of communication, compromise, and teamwork that you rarely get to experience from school assignments. One of my favorite parts of the evaluation was conducting virtual focus groups with program providers in the Baltimore area. I have never been to Baltimore, yet the love and care that these program providers had for the youth of Baltimore was palpable through Zoom and I came to better understand how philanthropy is changing to become more equitable so as to better tackle issues ranging from climate change to socioeconomic and racial inequality.

How do you see this internship factoring into your work after MAEC?

Throughout graduate school, I wondered how to conduct research in an ethical way that brought meaningful change to the lives of those being researched. Too often academics and researchers with little to no connections to communities that are systematically exploited will conduct research and develop a plethora of publishable findings – but leave no tangible benefits for the people they got the data from. As an intern at MAEC, I am learning how evaluation can be used as a tool to abolish carceral logics and dismantle white supremacy, and I am motivated to keep pursuing projects and roles where I can stay true to my values while further honing my research skills. Ultimately, I hope to learn how to wield my data analysis skills as a tool to challenge deficit-based narratives of communities I care about, and to implement policies that help people thrive without having to hoard resources and opportunities for themselves. Data analysis isn’t just reporting what is happening in the present. It can help us imagine what could be in a more just world and work to bring that vision closer to us. 

 

Share
The MAEC blog is designed to engage hearts and minds of school and district leaders across the country to engage in issues that you have identified as being essential in education. Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization.

Join Our Mailing List

Receive monthly updates on news and events. Learn about best practices. Be the first to hear about our next free webinar!

Share
Share