Meet the Vantage Team: Kayla Brooks

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A Learning-first approach for personal and professional growth

Our team grew up in the nonprofit sector. Each and every one of us pair our evaluation expertise with a firsthand understanding of the world we live in. Our Meet the Vantage Team series is a way for you to get to know each member of the Vantage team, and why they love what they do.


A Learning-first approach for personal and professional growth

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By Kayla Brooks

Kayla Brooks, MA | Evaluator

Kayla is a pro at making sense of messy data, and pushes us to take our quantitative analysis skills to the next dynamic level.

Starting out, I did not plan on being an evaluator. I wanted to become an applied researcher in the field of human development and behavior, with a special focus on behavioral prevention interventions for mothers and children in an effort to reduce stress-induced mental illness. What a mouthful! Ultimately, I just wanted to help improve the health and well-being of the people living in our communities. Understanding and helping people has always been my focus. From a young age I was curious about human behavior, always asking myself questions, such as:

  • Why do people make the decisions they do?

  • Why are some people outgoing while others are quiet?

  • Why do people react and cope the way they do?

  • How do people form attachments?

  • How do all of these behaviors effect development and mental illness?

I love that as evaluators we are held to the guiding principle of ‘striving to improve’ that pushes me to become a better evaluator.

My curiosity for human behavior led me down the path of psychology, where I exposed myself to multiple research areas, including: neurobiology of mental illness, personality psychology, and couple functioning and prevention of interventions for couples. I wanted to develop a holistic understanding human behavior well enough to help improve the mental health and well-being of those experiencing mental illness. Or, even more so, to promote mental health and well-being during pregnancy and in early childhood to prevent the development of severe mental illness in adolescents and adulthood through behavior modifications and system supports.

After recognizing that direct service wasn’t the best fit for me, I turned my sights to research and helping from behind the scenes, supporting programming and those implementing interventions to learn and make decisions to better serve their community. So I became a data analyst and Monitoring and Evaluation specialist at a foundation in charge of institutional learning.

Most of my time was spent collecting organizational data, managing databases and dashboards for quarterly monitoring reports, and helping with oddball data tasks, such as developing interactive dashboards to embed on our website. Evaluation, and especially learning, was far removed from my position within the foundation. I remember how unfulfilled I felt in this position because I knew my work was not making a change within the organization or for the beneficiaries of the organizations’ programs.

I knew this was not the right fit for me when my supervisor and mentor sat me down and told me that we were not doing evaluation. That conversation motivated me to seek out opportunities to work in evaluation where learning for strategic improvement was the main priority.

A little over two years ago, I joined Vantage Evaluation. I love Vantage’s learning-first approach to evaluation because you can’t start to improve programs unless you and those around you are willing to learn about them. Not only do I love this approach for our clients, I love that as evaluators we are held to the guiding principle of ‘striving to improve’ that pushes me to become a better evaluator. As my research and data analyst roots are deep, I have many obstacles to overcome to become a well-rounded evaluator. This value encourages me to push forward and stay resilient through this transformation.

While I still consider myself an evaluator-in-training, I approach all of my projects with a learning-first attitude and believe the best strategies to help inform strategic improvements in nonprofit programming are asking the right questions, at the right time, using appropriate evidence to answer those questions, and feeding that information back to those who have the power to make change.