Stevenson Center Podcast: Austin Moser & Juan Zamarripa (Applied Economics)

JZ: Hello! Welcome to our episode of the
Stevenson Center podcast. My name is Juan Zamarripa and I’m joined by Austin Moser.
AM: Hello. JZ: Today you’re going to be hearing about our experiences prior to the
Stevenson Center, during the Stevenson Center, our current fellowship and just
how that fellowship is going and how our lives are going in DC. AM: There you
go. JZ: Austin do you want to start us off today about something about yourself? AM: Yeah, so
I’m Austin Moser. I’m originally from about 45 minutes
west of DC, went to Virginia Tech for my undergrad, and studied economics.
What about you Juan? JZ: I grew up in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. I went to the
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I double majored in political science
and economics. I graduated in 2010. AM: Nice. Rhen what do you do after school? JZ: For
the first four years I worked at a bank as a supervisor. We were more like a
retail bank where people go open up checking account, savings accounts, and
stuff like that. How about you? AM: I became a ski bum in Colorado for a while, before
I got to Peace Corps in southern Africa and Lesotho. JZ: How was your Peace Corps
experience? AM: It was pretty good! I did HIV education, mostly taught computers, coach
basketball, hung on the mountains where it was freezing cold all the time. All those
wonderful Peace Corps things that people talk about. And you did AmeriCorps?
JZ: Yeah, I actually did AmeriCorps here in Arlington, Virginia where I’m currently
living, during my fellowship and my position it was
called the merchant leaders program facilitator and robotics coordinator. So,
what that is it’s a college access program that helps mostly Latino students and
other immigrant youth, you know learn more about college and find out what it
takes to get to college. I also mentored seniors in high school,
helping them apply to colleges, write their admissions essays, apply for
scholarships and just you know, get them ready to go to college.
Then, I also piloted a robotics program for middle school students, also
mostly Latino students. We played with Lego robots, we follow this Cornell
curriculum, we do a bunch of little mini tasks, and at the end we built this
maze that help them learn how to program how to get their robots
through. AM: Nice Do you have a most rewarding part of it or like a favorite
experience? JZ: Yeah I think working one-on-one with the high school seniors.
I’ve worked with mostly male students. A lot of the times our sessions would be
maybe an hour to two hours. You know, when you spend an hour to two hours with someone
weekly, helping them write essays. Especially personal essays, you
really get to know these students and it’s really awesome. One of the students
I’m still in contact with and he’s currently at Virginia Tech about to
graduate and actually, he just got his first job offer with an organization called
Micro Strategy and he’s been paid very handsomely.
Probably more than. Yeah it’s very proud to have worked with a student like
him and other students just like him. I would say that would probably be my
favorite moments from my AmeriCorps experience. How about you, how was Peace Corps?
AM: Kind of similar, like I said, I did a lot, coach basketball. taught
computers, worked at Health Center, and did some HIV outreach. My favorite was
always teaching computers just because this is very tangible, how much work you
were doing. For most of the kids, they came from more rural areas into
town where I was working. Almost all of them, is their first time using a
computer, so going through those first couple of weeks of teaching kids how to
hold a mouse, teaching kids what a keyboard is, how to turn on the computer,
all those incredible frustrations of how unintuitive right-clicking is. I never
would know, but then by the end of the year they were all mastering it and
stopped listening to anything I said because they’re having too much fun
playing on the program. JZ: I would imagine. Am: Yeah, which is good and bad.
Especially because they all figured out download movies and things. JZ: What
kind of skills would you say you learned more? Professional skills that you think would translate into an office or possibly something you took from that experience, say maybe you’re important to the
fellowship or possibly just in the future? AM: I’d say a big thing of Peace Corps is always flexibility and I’ll say ingenuity. You kind of
never have the resources you need or the resources you want. You just to figure out
how to make your way around all these problems and constantly improvise what
you’re doing to reach your goal, as well as constantly hitting
setbacks and having to reset. JZ: I definitely would echo
that working with the nonprofit I did in Arlington, it was a
very small staff. It was us three AmeriCorps, ED, and a program director.
Halfway through the year, the ED left, and actually the program director had just started so she was brand new as well. We had to learn a lot of things on the fly,
definitely the flexibility was there and definitely not having enough resources. I try to teach myself basic Adobe suite stuff, like illustrator
and InDesign to make more appealing flyers, we wanted to
make some videos about the program so we’re using our phones as video cameras
and would use windows video editor, which that gave me a lot of trouble the first time. But yeah, being very flexible, not having all the resources that you want to make
the program as best as you would like it to be. Yes, I have to be flexible and use some ingenuity and learn a bunch of random skills to get those grassroots experiences. AM: So how did you get from
AmeriCorps to the Stevenson Center? JZ: After AmeriCorps, I actually stayed in the Washington DC area and I worked at a nonprofit called
the Latin American New Center. At that position out there for two years, I was a
college counselor for a scholarship program. I worked with a caseload of about 30 students who were either just entering college or
possibly been there for a year or two. The goal of the program was to kind of
transition people from possibly a community college to the four-year
university. A lot of our participants were at community colleges
and we’re either undocumented or just first-generation students. Primarily
my job was making sure that they’re staying up with their grades making
or connecting them to resources if they needed to try to find extra money here and there for scholarships, help them pay for their
their education. I was there for two years and I actually found out about, I started thinking about getting a masters. I was always very worried because its very expensive. Very, very expensive.
Then one summer, I got an email from AmeriCorps and they were
highlighting the Stevenson Center and their program. I clicked through
and I read it and I was like this looks pretty cool, you know kind of more
than nonprofit sector and development sector. I think the biggest selling points was definitely the fact of the financial aid package. The financial aid package was definitely something like, oh okay wow, we’re really
looking into this now. I did more digging and found out
more about the economics program. Yeah, I think that’s that’s probably one of the
biggest things that drove me to the Stevenson Center is both the academic
work and then also definitely a financial aid package. AM: Nice, I think I was in the same boat, too, coming back from Peace Corps, no money obviously. I was applying to grad school in Peace Corps, without really planning on going.
I was just flipping through and I was like, oh this grad school is
good, but I don’t have $60,000. Then, I stumble across Stevenson, I
was like I don’t know, maybe, I get paid to go to grad school, why wouldn’t I?
I still remember sitting in my house and listening to an interview,
it wasn’t Katie, must’ve been Beverly, in the freezing cold buying
Internet bundles. Is that terrible? But, having Beverly I think kind of convinced me yeah, great financial package, you can make it in Normal – Bloomington on the nine hundred dollars a month or whatever
it was. JZ: For me it was either Stevenson Center or not. Stevenson Center’s financial package was so much better than any other schools because I’m guaranteed assistantship, guaranteed stipend every month, as a grad
student I like that and plus it gives you more experience. Then when I read through the description line there was a lot describing what students would be doing in the assistantship, you know an
assistant to professors or working and data analysis, which was also the big factor.
I really wanted to work with the data and I ended up working with it. AM: Yeah, do you want to talk about working with Dr. Beck last year? JZ: Sure, yeah. Myself and Austin worked with Dr. Beck last year for the CJCC, the Coordinating Council,
what was it called again? AM: Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, gotta get that J down.
AZ: I mess up the C’s. I think that was a great experience
introduction to big data analysis, which is something, you know, I was very
interested in. It was probably the best hands-on experience during my
year there. I’m not only going to the data, but also presenting to some big
people in accounting, the justices, the judges, the sheriff’s council, public defenders, the woman in charge of probation is there. AM: Yeah, kind of everyone who was high up in McLean County’s criminal justice system sat in and listened to us talk. JZ: I think not only knowing how to do the data analysis but also kind of presenting it to people that might not know
as much as us is definitely I think a skill. AM: Much smarter in criminal
justice, we do data. JZ: Yeah, so being able to communicate that and in more
I guess, layman’s terms, but just an easy, understandable, digestible way is
also a skill. People are continuously saying once we leave, you should be able to explain your data very well. You want to talk a
little bit about your fellowship and what you’re doing there? AM: Right now I’m
at the Housing Assistance Council in DC. They focus in rural housing, they’re
national intermediary, they help out these smaller, rural housing groups all over the country. They work pretty closely with USDA, they work
really closely with HUD. Next week is our big, rural housing conference, yes thank
you, forgot the word for a second, which is pretty exciting. There’s 600 people
from I think all 50 states now. We’re gonna have Fed Reserve Chairman
Jerome Powell speaking, Ben Carson speaking from HUD, and then we have
Senator Cortes Masto from New Mexico, and Maxine Waters from California are all
speaking. It’s a pretty big event, it’s pretty exciting, but it’s particularly exciting for me because I get to meet all these people I’ve been
sending data to answering phone calls with. What about you? How’s CBA?
JZ: Yeah, I’m with CBA which stands for Credit Builders Alliance. CBA is
a national organization, they like to call themselves the bridge between
nonprofits that are doing lending, specific on the loans, and the credit
reporting agencies. There are a lot of smaller nonprofits and CDFIs across the
country that want to make loans to help their clients move from poverty to middle class or wherever else. They want to lend this money to help them you know the develop their lives.
But a lot of the times these nonprofits that want to make these
loans, they can’t actually report them to credit bureaus like Experian or Trans
Union. So what CBA acts like an intermediary,
we’re able to bundle all these loans together and then report it
to an experienced Union. Once a client pull their credit report, they have proven that they could pay back loans, and then eventually
they could go to a bigger mainstream bank, like a Bank of America or
Chase and get a mortgage or a car loan with pretty good rates.
Usually, if you don’t have good credit, you’re gonna get humongous rates,
not very good terms, and you kind of get shut off from
being able to buy a home, buy a car, you know markers of a middle-class life.
With them, I’ve been helping with their data collection strategy.
They have a database under Salesforce, but they’re not doing as much as they
want or collecting what they feel iS enough data. I’m going through
that and revising how they collect their data then and hopefully be able to help their clients and the organization that partners with CBA and
help their clients out, eventually. AM: Nice and so what’s a typical day for you? Go
the office at 9:00? JZ: Yeah, get on the Metro, the very overcrowded Metro. AM: It’s
running at half paced right now. JZ: Yeah, which is not great, it’s annoying. So yeah, I
ride the Metro in to Farragut West, which is right right down the street from the White House, I could see the Washington Monument from our office, which is pretty cool. Oh yeah, I do a weekly phone call Monday mornings with my supervisor. We talk about what I did the previous week, what I plan to work on this week. From there, just go
on with my day and see all the tasks I need to complete to accomplish bigger
goals. AM: It’s a pretty variable workload week to week? JZ: Yeah, I would say so.
I’ve added some more longer-term projects,
for the most part, then some little side projects. Ultimately like
everything is more long term, though. AM: Nice and do you have any particular skills
you feel you’ve picked up in five months now? Yes, upon the halfway
mark. JZ: Definitely working with Salesforce is a big database that a lot of
nonprofits across the country work with. There’s also private organizations I work
with, so I think learning how to use Salesforce has probably been one of the
biggest skills that I’ve picked up so far. AM: I’ve just started using that a little
bit in my nonprofit. I’m not great at it, but I have it a little bit now, not
as much as you. Would you, what’s next for you? Did you ever
determine what your final capstone idea is? KZ: Yeah, for my capstone I am
working with the nonprofit that I did my AmeriCorps with. I’m gonna be evaluating
their program pretty much, my question is, is their program having a significant
effect on college enrollment for their participants? AM: Nice. JZ: Right now, I’m going through that and cleaning their data. There are some very small organizations, so
they have a bunch of Excel spreadsheets all over the place. We’re getting that
cleaned all up. Hopefully it’d be done by end of May. AM: Cool! JZ: How about you? I know you finished your capstone. AM: Yes, I finished my capstone on USAID
spending. I got to present via Skype to the Stevenson Center, so it’s nice to
have that a little bit off my plate. Now I have to look into whether or not I
want to attempt to publish it with Dr. Mohammed, but we’ll see.
JZ: Gotcha. AM: That’s kind of far away. JZ: And any plans post fellowship? AM: No, but it’s
nice because we’re gonna have Masters and DC experience. I have like six months to
network around DC, get know people, and of course we will still have our health
insurance until April or August is what I meant, the other A. So, it’s not huge rush. What
about you, have you thought about post Master’s degree? JZ: Yeah, I know
CBA has talked to me about my interest of possibly staying on. That’s a
possibility and possibly just working in a non profit sector with data
analysis. Leaning towards more data analysis and nonprofits. AM: Stake in the
data? JZ: Yeah. AM: Data’s kind of fun. JZ: oh I think so, it’s fun putting it together. AM: That seems
like the common thread here. Playing with data is fun. JZ: Data is fun, it really is. I think that’s all the time
we have for today, Austin. Any closing comments or piece of advice for future
Stevenson fellows? AM: Uh, no. I’ve nothing super insightful to say other
than I think Stevenson was a pretty good deal for both of us. Obviously we
don’t know the final product, but I think we’re both set up pretty well, going into the future. JZ: Yeah, I think that finally we were exposed to
expose a lot of new skills, specific data analysis to our experiences, and I think
that’s gonna really help us. AM: Do you have any other insightful comments? JZ: Um,
definitely be open to exploring different fields within the nonprofit
sector and different organizations. Something that I’ve come across from CBA,
there’s so many different organizations that are doing work. Yeah it’s pretty
awesome. So, just you know doing simple Google searches on things you’re very
passionate about, trying to find those organizations. AM: There you go. Okay. JZ: Alright, thank you for joining us. Hopefully this podcast was helpful, if
anything. AM: If nothing else you’ll know at least a little bit what we went through.
Okay, thank you.

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