We had the opportunity to speak with PPIA Alum Jennifer Godinez, the Associate Director of the Minnesota Education Equity Partnership (MNEEP). In our interview, we discusses the state of education in Minnesota and how MNEEP is working to ensure that students of color and American Indian students achieve their full academic and leadership success.  Ms. Godinez shared her motivations pursuing a career in public service and education, and how PPIA and her graduate school experiences at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs played a role in her professional career.

Below is our interview with Ms. Godinez.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


Could you talk a little bit about the challenges facing Minnesota’s education system today and MNEEP’s role in transforming education in the state of Minnesota?

So the organization is really concerned about a couple things. One is obviously, we’re measuring talent, we’re measuring students by test scores and we see a persistent gap, what we call an achievement gap, but we understand from research and from other best practices that it’s really reflective of an opportunity gap. So where we have growing numbers of students of color and immigrant students in the state, we are obviously not transforming our system to better meet their needs and better meet their families’ needs so that they can be successful in academics. So our mission statement, we changed it a couple of years ago but we’re very focused on using a race equity lens to transform organizations and institutions and leaders to better address the opportunity gaps of students of color in the state. We have 5 major goals, and we’re really looking at systems change and we get community voice to help shape systems change in education.

Why is it important that we use the word equity vs. equality?
That’s a great question. Well we know that equality means – everybody gets the same thing in order to produce an outcome of equality. We understand that there are differences, and especially historical differences and how different groups have been treated in this country, so there’s another term that we use which is the education debt which is coined by some critical race theorists, and prominent ones in education saying that there’s been historical disinvestment and holding back of communities of color and immigrant youth. And so with those policies in place, historically and currently too in terms of suspension rate policies right now and over representation of young men of color, then we know that we need to get to equity which is addressing specific needs of certain groups and really including them in systems and policies in a way that they’ve never been included before.

How has your JSI experience and your time at the Humphrey School helped you in your profession today?

I think every kind of training I’ve had in public policy has built on top of the other because it’s understanding the fundamentals of making arguments, knowing how to do policy analysis, understanding research, seeing how, historically, research has been used to shape policy and how sometimes that’s good sometimes that bad. So really just a good background on fundamentals of writing, research, and policy analysis […] It engaged me a bit more in the field of public policy in what you could do in the field whether as a non profit manager or an elected official or working at a capital or working at the national level in policy – so really that introduction and overview of all the different roles and the skills that it take to be successful in those roles.

“I still think, for students of color, getting to know people on a very personal level, understanding what our Muslim brothers and sisters go through, understanding what men who have been previously incarcerated for very small issues that are now back in our society, understanding what transgender folks are going through to go through school or a family that has a transgender child… that makes a huge practical and relational difference in our society,” Jennifer Godinez.

About MNEEP: “Minnesota Education Equity Partnership uses a race equity lens to transform educational institutions, organizations, and leaders to ensure that students of color and American Indian students achieve full academic and leadership success.”