MDI Fellow Feature: Stephanie Straus

Written by Carrie McDonald, MDI Journalism Intern 

Stephanie Straus, M.Ed., has been a Policy Fellow at MDI since May 2020. She has a background in education and education policy research and previously served as a research analyst at the American Institutes for Research. At MDI, Straus works with Professor Amy O’Hara on projects at the intersection of education, data privacy, and increased safe data use.

From day to day, Straus has a multitude of responsibilities. Sometimes she is coding, cleaning, and analyzing the data. Other times, she is writing about it, building a governance model that addresses the legal and regulatory risks involved with data sharing, or leading a demonstration using increasingly popular privacy technologies at the Department of Education’s statistical wing, the National Center for Education Statistics.

“I love what I do,” Straus said. “It’s very different every day.”

Currently, Straus and Professor O’Hara are working with a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to help education agencies implement PETs.

“A lot of agencies sit on a wealth of very good data that is not utilized to its full ability,” Straus said. “So I’m excited for them to start seeing what more they can do with it.” 

By the end of 2025, Straus will have three pilot programs active, focused on how education agencies can use longitudinal data systems that follow students throughout their lives to analyze and improve student outcomes. 

“This project is near and dear to my heart,” Straus said. “It’s been really cool to meet all these people across the country who want to do more with the student data systems that they have, and just are so passionate about doing what they can to help the students in their district or state.”

“It’s really nice to get to connect my work here back to some of the education research I was doing before I came to Georgetown,” Straus added. “We have that focus on making students’ lives better, trying to make the education system more equitable.”

Straus has attended and presented at several conferences this past year and has started to establish herself as a name and expert in the niche space of PETs, specifically within government, public institutions, and nonprofits. She hopes her work will change how data is used, stored, and kept to ultimately improve outcomes.

“I, along with a lot of the people who I’ve met along the way, are pushing towards something bigger,” Straus said. “Whether that’s pushing the federal government or the Department of Education specifically, or maybe some of the more privacy-focused government agencies like NIST, OSTP, or OMB, it feels like there’s a momentum moving more towards adopting these PETs and seeing the value of them in government agencies, not just at the federal level, but at the state and local levels.” 

Straus’ work on data privacy can also be applied to different subjects beyond education. During Straus’ first two years at MDI, she worked on the CJDC. She and her team are currently working on a project with the IRS involving tax and earnings data. There is also significant potential to apply these principles to a range of different topics like healthcare and social services, Straus said. 

“What I love about my job is that it is mission-driven,” Straus said. “It might be a bit indirect, but in whatever small way, I can help others.”