Our Alumni in Action

Iris Blandon-Gitlin


Sonja Evensen

Evaluation Specialist
Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL)

Sonja Evensen completed CGU’s Certificate of Advanced Study in Evaluation from her remote location in Hawaii, where she evaluates health and education programs around the Pacific islands with a private, non-profit group. Despite the distance, she says the sense of community she found with her cohort was as strong as any face-to-face class group. "There was a real collegial and jovial tone, and we all got to know each other's quirks. So we got to joke around a lot with each other, and [Drs.] Tina [Christie] and Stewart [Donaldson] were just so warm and encouraging."

Sonja has been involved in substance abuse prevention for nearly a decade, both as a curriculum developer, a community outreach worker, and a director for an after school program for youth in Waimanalo, Hawaii. Her work "in the trenches" led to her interest in program evaluation--one that is responsive to both federal demands and that honors community and their terms of success. Sometimes the challenges can be much more colorful than evaluators on the mainland might expect. On one occasion, she chose the local yam production as an example to help teach a logic model, only to find out that the local measurement was not in weight or volume, but a unit of mass equivalent to "How many yams four men can carry." Yet the cross-cultural values of evaluation theory helped bridge such conceptual differences, and Sonja was able to help prepare the population for dealing with globalized measures of accountability.

"Every day when I went to work, what I learned in the Claremont program was immediately applicable. As a matter of fact, while I was in the program, we discussed a lot of our work, so if I was having an issue in one of my evaluation projects while I was working on it, I would get immediate feedback and everything I learned. I felt a huge amount more confident about what I was able to do, and I was able to prevent some of the harmful things that an evaluator might be doing just because I didn't know."

"I feel like I can help my clients come up to speed with the Department of Education and their funding sources as far as accountability and evaluation are concerned. And can do it in such a way that they can understand.  I've taught a number of workshops where I am sent out to the region [of the Pacific islands] to do capacity-building.  I see a lot of 'Aha!' experiences when they see the logic models drawn out and they realize their activities aren’t lined up with their goals."

In her free time, Sonja windsurfs (her first career was as a professional athlete!) and is engaged in other ocean sports. She also is the 2006 Vice President of the Hawaiian Pacific Evaluation Association, and is deeply involved with Evaluation Hui, a group that develops guidelines for culturally responsive evaluation of Native Hawaiian programs.

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