Punching numbers: UMN student analyzes data for campus advocacy

Emilia Janik is the one-woman show for MSA’s data driven advocacy of over 30,000 students.

Emilia Janik fields questions in the O. Meredith Wilson Library on Thursday, Oct. 31.

Nur B. Adam

Emilia Janik fields questions in the O. Meredith Wilson Library on Thursday, Oct. 31.

by Samantha Hendrickson

After completing coursework for her hectic senior year, statistics major Emilia Janik has an additional responsibility: sorting through multiple data sets to determine what more than 30,000 students at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities care most about on campus. 

As the solo research and data coordinator for the Minnesota Student Association, it is Janik’s job to work with student government to create surveys for the student body every semester. Usually, the work is completed by more than one person, but Janik is a one-woman show. The survey results help discover the issues students want to see changed or advocated for at the University. 

“I don’t ever really think about it as work,” Janik said as she flipped back and forth between applications on her laptop. “It’s something that I really enjoy doing … ‘What are we doing to make the campus a better environment?’ ‘How do we welcome more students onto our campus?’”

Janik starts the process by meeting various committees, nailing down what MSA wants to find out from students about advocacy and helping them find the right questions to ask students in order to extract the best data.

“[Data-driven advocacy] really allows us to ground our projects in the actual student experience … accurately representing student needs on campus,” MSA Campus Life Committee Chair Levi O’Tool said. “We can show admin … here is the need, and be factual in our claims.”

Janik’s role as research and data coordinator, which she began this school year, means that alongside her busy senior year, she is also parsing through thousands of survey responses.

The latest survey, which MSA says is their best survey yet, received over 3,000 responses on questions about grocery stores, off-campus living, environmental justice issues and freedom of speech, among others. Janik then drafts reports and sends them to MSA’s different advocacy committees.

With Janik’s reports, the committees involved can see what students think about campus climate and concerns and put together initiatives on how best to serve them. 

Though new to the role, Janik’s predecessor had nothing but praise for her.

“Because of her statistics and analytical background, she came in with a lot of ideas on how to improve [response] numbers,” said former Research and Data Coordinator Governess Simpson.  

One of Janik’s ideas was to have an eye-catching question at the beginning of the survey to intrigue students.

Statistics, Janik said, can be applied to many fields like politics, business and psychology, which is challenging as she tries to explore career options after college.

“I do like that I have that flexibility,” Janik said. “I do like to feel like I’m making an impact.”

Statistics, however, is just one part of the data advocacy equation. It also involves communication skills, Simpson said.

Austin Kraft, MSA representative to the Board of Regents, said Janik is so good at her work because of her ability to tell a story through data. 

“The skills that are most important are to frame questions that are unbiased … to phrase questions that are the most relevant and get responses that are factual and honest in terms of the advocacy work that we do,” Janik said. 

While Janik said that work like survey creation and data sorting can be done from anywhere, it definitely is not a quick process. But to her, it is worth it.