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Olin Hall, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Graduate Career Services

Master's Student Spotlight - Michele Houtchens

Name: Michele Houtchens
Undergraduate Degree -  
Graduate Degree #1 - Master's Public Policy, University of Denver
Graduate Degree #2 - Master's Educational Administration, Sam Houston State University 

Michele Houtchens



Describe your internship position and your specific role.

I participated in a Graduate School Fellowship with Education Pioneers.  The mission of Education Pioneers is to make education the best led sector in the United States.  Education Pioneers celebrated its 10th year in 2014. My twelve colleagues and I comprised the inaugural cohort in Denver.  We were selected from 4,500 candidates from across the country.  In the twenty cities in which EP has a presence, they partner with education organizations ranging from State Departments of Education to charter organizations to traditional districts.

For my Graduate School Fellowship, I was partnered with KIPP Colorado.  I worked closely with the Chief Academic Officer to design teacher evaluation policies that adhered to SB 191, the Colorado Great Leaders and Teachers Act.  After researching the statute and best practices in teacher evaluation, I generated an outline for the teacher evaluation handbook including forms for use by evaluators.  I’m proud that the work I did will contribute to the success of underserved students.  

In addition to my direct service with KIPP, Education Pioneers provided an opportunity for me to engage with my colleagues in conversations about challenges in K-12 education.  During the seven seminar days held across my ten week internship, EP staff facilitated panels of Denver based leaders engaged in the urgent work to close opportunity gaps in the system.  Personally, I found this a very rewarding aspect of the Fellowship experience.  Along with discovering the leadership opportunities in education, the seminars allowed me to network with established leaders in Denver.  These connections assist me in my Policy Memo work for the MPP here at DU.  I might also mention that my Education Pioneers colleagues voted me as the member who most exhibited the EP value of collaboration.  

 As an educator with 12 years of experience in middle school, I’m passionate about providing opportunities for all children regardless of where they live or which language they speak at home.  I came to the Institute for Public Policy Studies at DU to impact the education sector at the policy level.  My dream job is working with the Donnell Kay Foundation here in Denver reimagining our public education system so that all children are provided with opportunity to grow to their full human potential including development of their mind, body and spirit.  

I believe that it’s never too late.  I returned to school late in life to finish my undergraduate degree in education.  Senior to many of my first-year colleagues, I enjoyed being in the classroom and supporting 7th graders learning English Language Arts.  While teaching I pursued my first master’s degree in Educational Administration in order to reach even more students as a mid-level campus based administrator.  Three years ago, I returned to Denver and had the opportunity to return to graduate studies again in order to affect even more children and their families.  Once more, I find myself senior to many of my classmates.  But, it’s never too late to pursue one’s passions.  Currently, I am a second year in the Masters of Public Policy program.  With the guidance of my advisors, I am writing my Policy Memo on alternatives for Colorado districts in Priority Improvement/Turnaround status with an analysis of the costs and benefits of statutory options.

In relation to starting in your graduate program, when did you begin looking for a position and how did you find it?

I began seeking opportunities for internships from my first quarter at DU.  The staff at IPPS, especially Erin Deitrich and Debbie Gaylinn were great resources during my search.  My Fellowship with Education Pioneers was a result of attending an information session.  There I learned about the application process, made contact with EP staff and an EP alum.  The alum coached me during the application process and encouraged me.  In addition to the Education Pioneers Graduate Fellowship, I also have interned in Governor Hickenlooper’s Policy office working with his education policy chief.  I was fortunate to take advantage of the partnership between IPPS staff and folks at the capital. 

How did you balance an internship while enrolled in graduate school? Describe any challenges you faced and strategies you used to overcome them.

Fortunately, my Education Pioneers Graduate Fellowship was a 10-week summer position.  I was able to dedicate all of my energies toward it.  My internship in the Governor’s office was during the session (January through May).  In the later months as the session heated up and bills were moving toward passage, the hours became longer and later.  One way that I balanced my internship and studies was to make good use of down time (waiting on committee starts, etc) with short projects that moved my graduate work forward.  I also let family and friends know that I was “scheduling” blocks of study time for those projects that require more intensive attention.

How has your internship contributed to your long term career goals?

My long-term goal is to run for elective office.  Both the internship with Governor Hickenlooper’s education policy advisor and the Education Pioneers Graduate Fellowship helped me sharpen skills such as critical thinking, working collaboratively, and issue analysis.  During each of these experiences, I have networked with others who share the same passion for educational opportunity.  Additionally, I have begun to build my personal “board of directors”, people whom I respect and admire and are willing to help me grow professionally.  I’m really grateful for the opportunities both of my internships provided.

Do you have any advice for current graduate students as it pertains to finding an internship position during graduate school?

Network, network, network!  A great place to start is in the office of your program or with a professor you admire.  Ask your network to recommend resources for you.   Follow-up on every conversation.  Ask to be introduced to someone new.  Ask what others are reading.  When you find something of interest to someone else, pass it on.  Say thank you often!  It became evident quite early in my search that the more I talked with and listened to people, the more like-minded people I met.  Soon, I found myself with the opportunities of my dreams!