As the first graduate student chair of the Penn State Student Fee Board, doctoral candidate Claire Kelling is used to making a difference with her on-campus involvement. Being nominated for the 2020 Graduate Student Homecoming Court this year is just another opportunity to make a change.
“I’m grateful for the platform to talk about policy changes that I’ve advocated for at Penn State and to talk more about how the Student Fee benefits all students,” Kelling said. “As the first graduate student chair of the Student Fee Board, I look forward to talking to more students, especially graduate students, about how the fee is used to improve the out-of-class experience.”
Kelling is currently a fifth-year doctoral candidate pursuing a dual doctoral degree in statistics and social data analytics, along with a graduate minor in computational sciences. The Ohio native completed her bachelor of science degree in statistics and bachelor of arts degree in economics at Virginia Tech in 2016. Since coming to Penn State, beyond being a chair of the Student Fee Board, she also is the student body president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association and a member of the Statistics Climate and Diversity Group as well as the Anti-Racism Working Group.
Clearly, Kelling is staying pretty busy on campus. While some might try to limit their student involvement to just a few commitments, Kelling says that she works as hard as she does because she truly believes that what she’s doing is important.
“I believe it is important to do this work simply because it is the right thing to do,” she said. “I agree with many activists lately who have said, ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.’ I believe it is important to stand up for your values and work to reveal and replace racist, and otherwise marginalizing, policies.”
Working towards a grueling doctoral degree can be extremely time consuming, especially with numerous involvements and commitments on top of that, but Kelling keeps herself organized through the use of calendars and prioritization.
“I manage my time through religious use of Google Calendar,” she said. “But also by learning to say ‘no’ to projects, meetings, and other initiatives, where I believe that I won’t be able to make a difference.”
Making a difference has definitely been a theme for Kelling throughout her time as a Penn State student, which she has been sure to take advantage of. During her first summer at Penn State, she was a graduate fellow for the Social and Decision Analytics Lab that is now hosted at the University of Virginia in Arlington, Virginia. Beyond that, she has also completed meaningful work concerning gerrymandering.
“In my second summer, I was a graduate research assistant for the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group (MGGG), which is a partnership between Harvard, MIT and Tufts,” Kelling said. “I created spatial models to study gerrymandering across the United States. For my third summer, I was a summer associate at RAND, which is a nonprofit global policy think tank. I worked on machine learning problems as applied to health care problems in the United States.”
While Kelling has been able to find her own success as a doctoral candidate, she recognizes that it can be incredibly difficult trying to figure out what you want to accomplish and where you want to be for several years. She’s led many workshops about this very topic, but for Penn State students thinking about their next steps, she suggests focusing on building a community for yourself, even if you don’t think you have time.
“I think my number one advice would be to find a research topic that you are passionate about and someone who you will enjoy working with for your adviser,” she said. “It is also critically important to find a school that is located somewhere that you will want to live for several years. If you are able to find this combination, you are setting yourself up for success! It is important to build a support network -- your peers in your cohort are a great start, but don’t be afraid to get involved outside of your program. You might not have a ton of time for this, but the time spent building a community for yourself will be time well spent.”