Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, February 8, 2018

Dozens of alumni give back to alma mater during fall 2017

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Students prepare for their mock interviews with La Follette School alumni and other policy professionals during the Professional Development Workshop course (PA800). 

2017 mock interviewers

The La Follette School is extremely grateful to the following people who volunteered the time and talents with students in the Professional Development course (PA800) as mock interviewers.

  • Brian Bell (MPA ’10)
  • Tim Casper (MA ’99)
  • William (Bill) Cosh
  • Roland Couey (MA ’82)
  • Grace Cudney
  • Michele Dickinson (MPA ’14)
  • Bryan Gadow (MPA ’05)
  • Steve Kulig (MPA ’14)
  • Robert (Bob) Nikolay (MA ’89)
  • Rececca Schwei (MA ’95)
  • Megan Stritchko (MPA (’09)
  • John Tuohy (MA ’83)
  • John Vander Meer (MPA ’06)
  • Jenna Weidner (MPA ’06)
The fall 2017 semester clearly demonstrated the affinity that alumni and others have for the La Follette School of Public Affairs. From the very first week of September through November, dozens of people shared their time and talents during classes, site visits, and professional development activities.

Some of the school’s newest alumni, including Emma (Schumman) Drilias (MPA ’16), volunteered as did those from decades ago. Drilias and more than two dozen other alumni and policy professionals met with students in two Professional Development (PA800) activities – speed-networking and mock interviews.

“As I started graduate school, I was anxious about what opportunities would be available to me,” said Drilias, a fiscal analyst with Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau. “Learning about the career paths of alumni helped calm my nerves and exposed me to careers I had not previously considered.”

In addition to these class activities, 21 La Follette School students participated in the two-day La Follette in Chicago program. Four organizations hosted the students: U.S. Government Accountability Office, American Institutes for Research, Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and Consulate General of Canada. A dozen alumni assisted. 

“When we need volunteers, our alumni and friends eagerly assist,” said Associate Director Hilary Shager (MPA ’05, PhD ’12). “It is especially remarkable because so many of them reach out to us and offer to speak with and mentor students.”

Gerlach: CEO, managing partner, Sunrise Capital Partners

The semester began with a visit by Jason Gerlach (MA, JD ’96), who met with La Follette School students during a campus visit for the Dean’s Summit at UW–Madison’s Law School.

“The tools you are getting at La Follette can be applied almost anywhere,” said Gerlach, CEO and managing partner of Sunrise Capital Partners.

Originally from Milwaukee, Gerlach previously practiced law, co-founded the California Alternative Investments Association, and launched an artisan confections company with his wife. He spoke about being an entrepreneur, which he described as a mindset rather than a job or career.

“You can be a wildly successful entrepreneur and work in a government agency or at any level of a company,” he said, noting that the Forever stamp most likely originated from someone other than the head of the U.S. Postal Service.

Speckhard: CEO, Lutheran Relief Services

November 2017 saw a flurry of alumni visits, beginning with Daniel Speckhard (MA ’82), who spoke during Shager’s Professional Development class (PA800).

A former U.S. ambassador to Greece and Belarus Speckhard has served as president and CEO of Lutheran World Relief, an international development and relief organization working in more than 30 countries, since 2014.

Speckhard shared his experiences as a diplomat, in the private business, and in the nonprofit sector before offering his perspective on the world, which he said is at the most dangerous point since World War II. “The transitions that are happening are of historic proportions,” he said.

The United States is far from alone in the rise of national populism. Leaders and other people in Russia, China, and Turkey see this as their priority and sacrifice on the economic side to make that happen, he said.

“National populism is a result of the major shift from the industrial to the information age and the globalization that is occurring,” he said, comparing it to the shift from an agrarian to industry economy and the conflict it caused.

Speckhard noted that the resulting economic dislocation along with the weakening of states and rise of non-state actors contribute to this dynamic and turbulent time as well. “It’s hard to underestimate how significant this has been,” he said. “I want you to think about how you’re going to navigate it.”

In conclusion, he recommended several books that have influenced him as someone who left college wanting to change the world and offered 10 pieces of career advice. These tips included “follow the money ... If you want to affect policy, think about budgets, spend time studying budgets, spend time learning how appropriations work, make sure you have a good understanding about budget cycles.”

Speckhard also encouraged students to “think about the side door. ... I knew I loved international affairs, but I went to the Small Business Administration because I knew the line into the State Department was really long.”

Hadley: Deputy Director, Congressional Budget Office 

Later that month, Mark Hadley (MA ’97), Bill Schmitt (MIPA ’05), and Joy Bertrand (MA ’93) talked with students on successive days.

Hadley, deputy director of the U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO), was in Madison for the opening conference of the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership. He has worked at the CBO for more than 16 years, including general counsel from 2008 – 2016.

The CBO, Hadley said, is a very collaborative and dynamic work environment with the opportunity to learn on a daily basis. “We have incredibly smart people who are working on a wide range of topics,” he said.

Approximately 40 percent of CBO staff work in the Budget Analysis Division – one of eight divisions at the nonpartisan agency.

“We have 235 employees hired solely on the basis of professional competence, without regard to political affiliation,” he said. “CBO wouldn’t be worth anything to Congress if we weren’t nonpartisan, objective, and transparent.”

The CBO works closely with the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), estimating the budgetary impact of bills that provide spending authority or that affect revenues in relation to current law.

While encouraging students to consider applying for a CBO internship, Hadley acknowledged it is highly competitive. “Interns do substantive work for CBO that will go in front of Congress,” he said, adding that the internships include an extensive educational component.

Schmitt: Country Representative in Turkey, Catholic Relief Services 

Bill Schmitt (MIPA ’05) stopped by the La Follette School and spoke with students while in town for the Badgers’ football game against Michigan. Shortly after receiving his Mater of International Public Affairs degree, Schmitt began his career with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) through the agency’s fellowship program.

“It’s a great way to get your foot in the door,” he said, encouraging students to apply.

Since his fellowship in Nicaragua, Schmitt has worked in numerous countries, including Haiti, Sudan, and Indonesia. He was CRS’s country representative in Afghanistan from 2012 to 2015, and now serves in a similar role overseeing the agency’s Turkey-based team responding to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syrian and across the region.

He outlined his career and explained CRS opportunities in three primary areas: program management, technical advising, and operations. Impartiality and needs-based evidence are critical when working in foreign countries like Turkey, Syria, and Afghanistan, he said.

“It starts with listening and respect,” Schmitt said. “We need to demonstrate that what we’re doing supports the national interests of Turkey,” which was not prepared for the huge influx of refugees from Syria.

Despite living in conflict settings, the rewarding experiences are too many to count, Schmitt said. Much of the work he oversees occurs outside the capital cities, where government has a limited presence.

“Working with local communities and other humanitarian agencies, we were able to get quality education delivered in some of the most isolated parts of Afghanistan,” he said. “That was incredibly rewarding.”

Bertrand: Private-practice attorney

Joy Bertand (MA ’93), who received her law degree from the University of Indiana–Bloomington, sees a great need for policy analysts, especially those working in government agencies. “You can do as much as a policy analyst and you can as a lawyer to make change,” she told students. “It’s just different.”

Bertrand encouraged students to find an issue that speaks to them, which for her law firm is women and juveniles in the criminal justice system with little or no money. Through criminal defense and plaintiff’s side civil rights litigation, Bertrand focuses on creating social change and solid public policy.

Bertrand stopped by the La Follette School after speaking at the State Public Defenders’ Criminal Defense Conference in Milwaukee. At the conference and during her conversation with students, she spoke about Mendiola v. Arpaio, which her firm litigated, and the discrete legal and medical issues presented by pregnant women in custody. Although that case focused on shackling women in labor, she said, pregnant women in jail face other legal and medical issues as well.

The Mendiola case led to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signing bipartisan legislation that limits the use of restraints on pregnant inmates. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was a major shift,” said Bertrand.

Policy analysts, she said, can help local, state, and federal government avoid similar costly litigation by making sure the agency where they work is serving the people it is supposed to be serving.

Additional alumni engagement

  • Don Eggert (MPA ’15) – Presidential Management Fellowship Information Session
  • Jennifer Gonda (MPA ’01), Katie Sanders (MIPA ’05), and Lamont Smith (MPA ’07) – Board of Visitors Meeting
  • Krista Willing (MPA ’08), Virginia Anderson (MPA '15), and State Auditor Joe Chrisman – Public Program Evaluation (PA871)
  • Peter Tempelis (MPA/JD ’06) – Policy After Work with Emeritus Professor Dennis Dresang
  • Malika Taalbi (MIPA ’14) and Pallabi Mitra of the National Nuclear Security Administration