Alumnae Reflections on the MSPE Program

Briana Martin and Sydney Hicks

The School of Social Sciences’ Master of Social Policy Evaluation (MSPE) program gives students the opportunity to explore specific policy areas in depth, including criminal and juvenile justice, public health, early childhood development and education, and labor markets. Two alumnae recently shared their experiences with the program and the positive impact it had on their careers.

Briana Martin HeadshotBriana Martin, ‘22

Prior to her time at Rice, North Carolina native Briana Martin came from a background in journalism, rhetoric, and teaching. In addition to her love of words, Martin also enjoys numbers and wanted to learn more about data analysis. In her search for programs that would help her acquire the skills to speak through data, Martin came across the MSPE program.

“I decided to apply,” said Martin, “because the program was taking social policies, which I know how to speak about with words, and it was blending in that evaluation component, which met my desire to have the ability to connect more with numbers.”

Now Martin is a research and evaluation associate at Episcopal Health Foundation, which serves 80 counties in Texas. In her role, Martin supports research on Texas Health Policy, which consists of exploring health outcomes and health disparities, social determinants of health and how those impact communities on different levels, and various health policies that could improve the lives of Texans. She also works on projects that evaluate relevant programs and interventions to explore potential outcomes and impact in Texas. Martin’s efforts intend to contribute to the research and evidence base for decision makers to enact policies and programs for a healthier Texas for all.

In addition to being a part of the MSPE program’s first cohort, Martin took advantage of additional offerings at the university, such as the School of Social Sciences’ STaRT@Rice program; she was a participant in 2021 and an ambassador the following year. The program gave her foundational tools to use in statistical analysis and provided her with the ability to connect with other professors, researchers, and students who she would not have otherwise met.

“STaRT@Rice had a huge impact on how I saw myself as a person of color in statistical analysis,” said Martin. She continued, “It gave me the words and the ability to articulate what statistical analysis is and what it does, to ascertain the various types of methods of statistical analysis, and to understand how statistical analysis impacts – and can impact – the world.”

As for the future, Martin looks forward to continuing her career as a researcher. She also would like to return to school to study public policy analysis broadly, either in pursuit of a Ph.D. or another master’s degree.

Martin encourages potential and current MSPE students to take advantage of all the resources available at Rice and to be open-minded about the ways in which the program could support different career paths.

“Be imaginative about what this program can do for you, especially if you have a desire to take the jump into a career rooted in statistical analysis. Think about how it can apply to your life, and move forward with that,” Martin said. She continued, “Don't stress about the material, because the supports are in place to teach you.”

Sydney Hicks HeadshotSydney Hicks, ‘22

Sydney Hicks, originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, realized she had a strong desire to help others. She received her bachelor’s degree in sociology, with a minor in LGBTQIA+ studies. Through her experiences, Hicks became passionate about policy and about data analysis that can help create real change on a large scale.

“I saw that the MSPE program covered a vast array of different concepts and spaces within government,” said Hicks. She continued, “At that time, I really didn't know what I wanted to do as far as policy, and I thought, ‘What an amazing program, to actually have insight into criminal justice, labor markets, and so many different avenues.’”

Currently, Hicks is a project manager for the tech company RingCentral in Charlotte, North Carolina. While going through the MSPE program in Houston, she was a corporate social responsibility intern at RingCentral. Hicks relied heavily on the coding and the different insights she gained from the MSPE program to understand the data she observed during her internship. This knowledge has also transferred to her current position.

“I have been able to connect what I learned to my career, such as criminal justice – how would that even relate to what I'm doing as a project manager in a tech space?” said Hicks. She continued, “I see the connections between the two in that I learned how to work with different sized teams and how to convey information to a non-technical audience.”

One of the many benefits of the MSPE program is that students can apply for scholarships to attend different conferences of interest. When she was at Rice, Hicks took advantage of this and attended a conference in Austin with a group of her cohort members. This was the first conference she had ever attended, and it was there that she learned about the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management’s Equity & Inclusion Young Professional Fellowship. After the conference, Hicks applied for and was awarded the fellowship; not only was this a commendable honor, but it also provided her with meaningful networking opportunities.

In envisioning next steps in her career, Hicks has her sights set on growing within her current company. She enjoys project management and also has interests in corporate social responsibility and the environmental, social, and governance realm.

When asked what advice she would give to current and future MSPE students, Hicks said, “Don't shy away from something you don't entirely understand.” She continued, “There are such vast options within the MSPE program, that even if a topic has never crossed your mind as something to study, there are some interesting things that you may actually enjoy learning about.”