The Leadership and Culture of STEPs
Author: Jessica Weins
Published: October 18, 2019
I initially learned about STEPs through the recommendation of a mentor and UNMC professor, Dr. Keyonna King. Dr. King had previously served as a program evaluator for STEPs. Through her class at UNMC, I became passionate about community-based participatory research, and Dr. King became aware of my interest in evaluation. She steered me toward the STEPs opportunity because of the community collaboration focus and evaluation experience it offers. Immediately after my interview with Dr. Jeanette Harder, I wished I had found STEPs sooner.
My appreciation and fondness for STEPs are so strong. I feel I have been a part of the team for much longer than I actually have. These feelings come from the combination of being inspired, motivated, supported, and empowered every day. STEPs pushed me to be a better student, evaluator, colleague, and person. This sounds like a cliché and too good to be true, but in this case, it actually is true. In fact, I almost postponed my graduation to continue working at STEPs. My positive experience stems from three main sources, each relating to the leadership and culture of STEPs.
Dr. Jeanette Harder: Without Jeanette, STEPs would not exist. The collaboration, community partnerships, utilization-focused work, and professionalism stem from Jeanette’s knowledge of and passion for evaluation. I was fortunate to get to observe her bid projects and field tough evaluation questions in different settings. The time and development Jeanette puts into the STEPs team is an investment I had never previously experienced from a supervisor. For example, Jeanette developed a Growth Assessment tool which we use both to track our progress and experience with specific skills and activities and to document specific skills and experience we hope to gain during our time with STEPs. Jeanette’s model of supervision really taught me what to look for in a supervisor and also set an example for how I would like to lead in the future when I am in a supervisory position.
Jodi Gabel: As a program evaluator at STEPs, Jodi Gabel has been an incredible leader and teacher for me. I had a definite learning curve when I joined STEPs, and I was constantly pushed out of my comfort and knowledge zones. Jodi’s faith in me provided a safe space to fail without being discouraged. Through each of these learning opportunities, I was thankful for her expertise and patience as a teacher. Her ability to provide me with the autonomy to work and grow independently was balanced with her ability to provide exceptional advice and guidance at just the right moments. She routinely asked what I needed from her in order to succeed, and I always felt valued and appreciated.
Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs): Last but definitely not least, my experience at STEPs was greatly enriched by the relationships I made with the other GRAs. Many of my favorite memories with STEPs were made when all of the GRAs were in the office together. Through these times and our weekly GRA meetings, the GRA team formed a strong bond and a lasting comradery. In each GRA, I found a role model and a friend, and at least one of the team (usually more!) was always ready with much appreciated support, encouragement, and Excel data analysis tips. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of a team of students who exhibit such incredible integrity, knowledge, wisdom, and teamwork.
During my graduate education, I was involved in numerous and varied groups and activities. For the three reasons listed above, and for so many more, I can genuinely say STEPs was one of my most influential experiences. My experience with STEPs was integral in my becoming a finalist in the nationally competitive Presidential Management Fellows Program and a Fellow with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The skills and confidence I gained while at STEPs served me well in interviewing for and in landing my dream job of working for the CDC. I am confident that I will continually draw upon the experience, skills, and personal growth gained during my time with STEPs, and I am grateful to have been part of the STEPs team.
Weaving Our Mission with Yours
Author: Pam Ashley
Published: September 19, 2019
Nonprofits in our community are driven by their powerful and heart-felt missions. I want to explore how our mission here at STEPs aligns with those missions of our partner organizations.
The STEPs team spent a good deal of time and energy defining our own mission:
STEPs promotes evidence-informed decision making through research and evaluation using a collaborative, utilization-focused approach to support social service programs and policies that transform and improve lives.
It lays out our focus and passion, but can also be a little overwhelming. So, let’s step through how our mission aligns with those of our partners.
Our social service program partners strive to transform and improve lives with a focus defined by their mission. They wrestle with using their available resources wisely to fulfill that mission. To be successful in that effort, organizations need to make strategic decisions about their direction and resources. That’s where STEPs comes in.
Strategic decisions need to be informed by evidence and insights. The STEPs staff–professionals, faculty and students alike–bring evaluation expertise and experience to support our partners in making those decisions. Here’s how we do that:
1. We start by gaining an understanding of what strategic decisions need to be made. This ensures that our work and projects are “utilization-focused.”
2. We work in collaboration with our partners to define each project including its objectives, approaches, timeline, and cost.
3. We gather, analyze, and present the research data or “evidence” defined in the step above.
4. We support our partners in understanding and applying that evidence to their strategic decisions.
Through this process we fulfill our mission, and in doing so, support our partners in achieving theirs–weaving our mission with yours!
An Introduction to STEPs
Author: Jenni Smith
Date: August 15, 2019
My name is Jenni Smith, and I began working with STEPs as a Graduate Student Worker in October 2018. Before coming to UNO as a graduate student in the Master of Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, I volunteered, interned, and worked with a range of nonprofit organizations, both large and small. Now having an insider view, I see how useful an organization like STEPs could have been to many of those organizations.
Often, working in nonprofits, especially smaller ones, we think we don’t have the funding for professional evaluation, consultation, training, etc., even when those very services could prove invaluable to our work. STEPs, though, is able to structure a plan that can work for just about any size and type of organization. STEPs can meet with you and discuss what it is your organization, program, or project really needs and tailor what we can do to fit both those needs as well as your budget.
STEPs is a collaborative organization. Internally, we are a team that works together and assists one another. When working with our community partners, a smaller version of that team is assigned to the project. STEPs works alongside the community partner so they have as much input as possible.
STEPs is an organization true to its mission: “…to promote evidence-informed decision making through research and evaluation using a collaborative, utilization-focused approach to support social service programs and policies that transform and improve lives.” It’s that last piece–“transform and improve lives”–that really strikes me continually and makes me so proud to be a member of the STEPs team. And that is what STEPs does–it helps organizations transform and improve the lives of those they serve. It is an honor to be a part of an organization like STEPs, where, as a team, we know our work will be used for the betterment of people and of communities.
STEPs can help your organization improve and transform the lives of those you serve. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to start the discussion, and we look forward to working with you.