October 12, 2021

For Gabriela Arredondo-Santisteban, her parents, her Latina heritage, and her educational path led her to her love for research and evaluation. Her parents, who are also in the field of research, are from Costa Rica (mother) and Mexico (father).While going to a diverse school in her hometown, it was clear that she and her sister were different from her peers. “Growing up in North Carolina, there weren’t that many other Hispanic or Latino families that I knew of, especially in my school.”

Her journey into evaluation began during her time in undergrad at Duke University. “It probably wasn’t until college, my senior year, that I even really recognized what program evaluation was,” Arredondo-Santisteban said. Today, she can see the difference between her understanding of evaluation and data, which was through the lens of psychology, and now. Her perception consisted of theories based on T-test, Z-score, Chi-squared.

During her senior year, she worked on an independent research project while interning for Action for Children North Carolina (now known as NC Child). While working there, she helped them put together the annual Kids Count data book statistics and learned how to use excel better than ever. “I was explicitly taught how to make a pivot table and how to use VLOOKUP. It truly changed how I saw data being used and how to use the excel software that no one really teaches you!” Her supervisor at the time, Laila Bell, introduced her to the idea that producing the information in the databook needs to be in a usable and digestible format for the general public because its purpose is to help people understand the state of children in North Carolina.

After graduating from Duke, Arredondo-Santisteban, moved to Washington, DC, where she began working for DC Action for Children. There, she was more involved in public policy instead of data and analysis. While this was interesting to her, Arredondo-Santisteban realized that it wasn’t the path she wanted to take.

This led her to her next job as a Research and Evaluation Assistant for the Children’s Law Center. The attorneys at the Law Center are guardian ad litem and serve kids in the abuse and neglect system. “That’s when I really understood more about program evaluation because we started a pilot study on the families we were serving, their satisfaction, and their overall life quality after interacting with the attorneys.” During this job, Arredondo-Santisteban and her colleagues had the opportunity to attend an Eastern Evaluation Research Society (EERS) conference and present some of their work.

Arredondo-Santisteban credited her experience working toward her Master’s at Brown University to where she gained concrete program evaluation skills. “I figured out what logic models were. I understood more of the larger picture of what evaluators do in organizations when they’re internal and what they do when they come in to evaluate externally. I wanted to evaluate community-based programs and non-profits.” During this time, she also recognized that DC wasn’t the space for her, and she wanted to be closer to working with data that were directly affecting people.

Arredondo-Santisteban expanded her experience by working in state evaluation with Rhode Island State government as a Program Evaluator. This opened her eyes to the strict requirements and expectations in the governmental sphere. “That gave me a more well-rounded picture of program evaluation from a government standpoint.” While she enjoyed working in state government, she wanted to focus more on and work for a program evaluation company. Of course, this is where VIA comes in.

“Just talking with Jess and Komani and realizing the truly comprehensive approach they take to program evaluation beyond these more intensive statistical analyses everyone thinks you need to do. There are other ways to show impact, to show communities working together and producing something meaningful, and producing change. Talking to them, reading the website, and our values spoke to me. I hadn’t had those experiences.”

Since beginning her work at VIA almost one year ago, Arredondo-Santisteban has been promoted from Research Associate to Senior Research Associate. We’re so happy to have Gabriela on our team!