Wilder School triple graduate Cydney Lowenstein brings data analysis expertise to the Survey and Evaluation Research Laboratory
Cydney Lowenstein (B.S. ’10, M.S. ’13 Ph.D. ’20) is building a legacy at the Wilder School as a triple graduate. She first became a member of the community when she began her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2006. Three Wilder School degrees later, she quickly advanced to a position as research support specialist where she continues to demonstrate her broad range of expertise today as part of the Wilder School’s Survey and Evaluation Research Laboratory.
Despite a seemingly clear-cut trajectory of criminal justice coursework, Lowenstein’s academic path actually began in the computer science program at VCU’s School of Engineering.
“I started taking some electives in criminal justice on the side, and it evolved to where that was the most interesting aspect of my education,” said Lowenstein. “So I ended up changing my major pretty late into my bachelor's degree because all of the coursework was just so fascinating.”
Her coursework illuminated Lowenstein’s affinity for applied research. “I really enjoyed research methods courses, and I liked the research process,” she said. “That led me into the master's program to expand on that, and then I went to the Ph.D. program. No matter the topic, I just found it very interesting to be involved in the research process.”
Professors at the Wilder School encouraged her along the way. “One of the big things to me was the quality of the professors. So many of them were so passionate about what they were teaching, and it really showed in their lessons. They were very helpful to students on a one-to-one basis, which really pushed me to move further in my education.”
Associate Professor and Assistant Chair of the criminal justice program, Blythe A. B. Balestrieri, Ph.D., was a standout supporter for Lowenstein. “She was the one that took me aside and told me I should consider getting a Ph.D., and she played a big part in getting me started on that whole path,” Lowenstein reflected.
From Ph.D. student to research support specialist
Lowenstein cited the Ph.D. program as a key component of her educational development. “My dissertation was probably the most transformative part of my academic journey,” she said. “I had done small bits of collecting survey data and doing data analysis, but my dissertation combined all of these things and gave me a strong foundation in practicing a lot of different research techniques. I focused on digital piracy and intellectual property.”
“I started taking some electives in criminal justice on the side, and it evolved to where that was the most interesting aspect of my education. So I ended up changing my major pretty late into my bachelor's degree because all of the coursework was just so fascinating.” – Cydney Lowenstein
A dedicated proponent of lifelong learning, Lowenstein is building on that foundation through her work at SERL. Part of the Center for Public Policy in the Wilder School, SERL conducts research on public and social issues to advance, inform and improve public discourse and decision-making.
“Cydney has been an amazing asset to our team at SERL,” said Mary Moore, Ph.D., director of field research. “She brings programming skills that allow us to take on projects that we previously would not have had the capacity for. She is also a fantastic person, and I am beyond grateful to have her at SERL.”
Cydney is an integral part of the organization’s work. “Cydney was recommended to SERL by Dr. Nancy Morris, whose praise was noteworthy because she has high standards,” said Jim Ellis, Ph.D., director of SERL. Nancy Morris, Ph.D., is an associate professor of criminal justice at the Wilder School. “Cydney has exceeded expectations. Not only does she have amazing technical skills, but she also writes well, thinks like a researcher, does statistical analysis and provides a calm, helpful and super-efficient presence all the time. I can’t imagine where SERL would be without her.”
Lowenstein takes on a wide variety of projects. “This includes survey development and survey programming,” she said. “Recently, I've also been doing data collection using Python and web scraping. I’ve also built online dashboards for different data. Whether it’s doing data analysis, cleaning the data or generating charts, texts and reports, I get to work on so many different projects. I might work on something for the health department one day and then something for a university the next. It’s always exciting and rewarding because we're making a big difference through these projects.”