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Vienna Thompkins

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Vienna Thompkins, a student in the Master of Public Administration Program, secured a competitive internship at the Brennan Center for Justice to understand the workings of criminal justice systems in various states and counties.

Thompkins is applying the knowledge she has acquired through the MPA Program and the Graduate Certificate in Data Analytics to conduct a fiscal analysis of the use of fees and fines in the criminal justice system.

She took a break from research to provide insight into her project and how it builds on her studies at Northeastern.


Q: The Brennan Center internship is very competitive. What do you think stood out during your interview?

A: For my initial phone interview, I spoke about my interest in evidence-based public policy that lead me to pursue the MPA degree and Data Analytics certificate, as well as my awareness and understanding of the current state of criminal justice policy and practices, especially in relation to race and class issues.

In this initial conversation and in my final round interview with the rest of the team on the project at the Brennan Center, I was also able to discuss a final project that I completed for a data analytics class last summer, where I sought to determine the relationship between gun laws and gun violence in the U.S. on a state-by-state level. The work that I completed in this class and the topics that I chose to analyze were particularly relevant during the interview. … I think that, ultimately, my ability to speak to the ins and outs of data collection and management combined with my demonstrated drive to apply those skills to criminal justice policy issues is what made me an ideal candidate for the internship.


Q: Tell us about the project you are working on, and how you are applying the knowledge you acquired in the classroom.

A: Through examining publicly available data, engaging in various forms of outreach, and conducting site visits to various counties across the U.S., the Fees and Fines team at the Brennan Center aims to perform a quantitative analysis of the costs and revenues associated with the assessment and collection of fees and fines in the criminal justice system. A study with such a quantitative focus hasn’t been done in this area, and the hope is that the findings of our research will provide the hard evidence necessary to demonstrate the impacts of fees and fines on the criminal justice system to policymakers who may be more receptive to fiscal and economic indicators of success, as opposed to the social and moral indicators that are often used in this field.

My role within the team relates mostly to the collection, management, and analysis of the data collected through this process, in addition to research and review as necessary. I have also had the opportunity to engage in the development and refinement of interview and survey tools, and I hope to participate in site visits this summer.

The knowledge that I have gained through both my core MPA classes and my Data Analysis classes has proven extremely useful as I seek to understand the workings of criminal justice systems in various states and counties, reach out to government employees to collect information, and design and manage a database.

Q: How is this internship opportunity complementing your education?

A: This internship is very much a culmination of the various skills that I have been developing through my academic program. Through my MPA core classes I’ve gained a better understanding of the ways in which public organizations and systems function, the processes associated with policy development and how these processes shape current policies and practices, and the ways in which external entities can influence these processes.

My Data Analytics classes have given me the hard skills necessary to engage in research and analysis that can contribute to the development of evidence-based public policy, and have allowed me to offer a skillset that is less common, but much needed, in many areas of policy development today. My internship at the Brennan Center has offered me a perfect opportunity to reinforce and apply the knowledge and skills that I have gained through my academic program.

To learn more about the MPA Program, the Graduate Certificate in Data Analytics, or student internships, visit the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs website.


Published On: July 6, 2017