While working as finance director for Blackhawk Technical College, Natalie Feggestad realized what she enjoyed most about her job was helping staff in other units navigate the finance and budget processes.
"It was very rewarding when I could help people in other departments out and make their jobs easier," says Feggestad, who joined the two-year college in Janesville, Wisconsin, 2003. "After a re-org during my second year, I was made part of the college's leadership team. I enjoyed being involved in broader discussions about college operations and the overall direction of the organization."
The opportunity to influence institutional operations on a broader scale prompted Feggestad to add a Master of Public Affairs degree to her certification as a public accountant. "I realized that I wanted to pursue positions more like my supervisor, the college's vice president of Administrative Services. Positions where I would still oversee the finance and budget functions but also other administrative functions – would broaden my interaction with the organization as a whole. I'd have a better opportunity to help an organization achieve its goals if I was leading more than just finance and budget. I knew that an MPA would be a big help in being considered for the kinds of positions I was wanted to pursue."
The La Follette School's academic program strengthened Feggestad's understanding of how politics affects public policy. "Learning about the various theories of how public policies come to be and evolve over time has been valuable – understanding the theories can help in developing strategies when drafting policies that are both effective and acceptable to the elected officials who have the final say over the policy," Feggestad says. "Without an understanding of the political process, it doesn't really matter how great a program or policy is — if it isn't accepted by the elected officials or their constituents, it won't be implemented."
Feggestad has been finance director for the city of Sun Prairie since August 2010. "Having an MPA definitely gave me an edge in getting the job in Sun Prairie," Feggestad says. "Sun Prairie is a smaller organization; therefore, they are always looking for managers with a strong skill set who can take on a broad area of responsibilities. In addition, as experienced managers retire, the City looks to existing managers to take on more responsibility, it presents a good opportunity to consolidate and achieve savings. My MPA signals to employers that I have an interest in administration and management beyond the technical aspects of finance and budget."
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1995 with a bachelor's degree in accounting and finance, Feggestad passed the CPA exam in 1995 and earned her license in 1997. She worked in public accounting for five years with a Green Bay firm. She joined what is now Baker Tilly then spent two years as the city of Edgerton's finance director before joining Blackhawk Technical College. While at La Follette, she worked as a consultant with several municipalities.
After graduating from La Follette in 2008, Feggestad joined Milwaukee County as its deputy controller. "Although my MPA wasn't necessary for obtaining the position, I definitely think my experience at La Follette was an important part of my success there," Feggestad says. "I understood that seemingly small policy changes may have larger political consequences and it was important to consider the political ramifications of almost any policy."
At La Follette, Feggestad appreciated that the school offered certain focus areas with course options fitting into those policy fields. "Even though I had a different background, was at a different stage in my career and had different career goals than most of the other students, I still felt like the La Follette program suited my needs," Feggestad says. "It was not a struggle at all to find courses that fit my goals."
With the economic downturn, funding for government services has become much more limited and is being heavily scrutinized, and Feggestad uses her professors' admonitions to be cautious when making comparisons among different organizations. "We are often asked to compare our programs and spending to other communities," she says. "Often, organizations use different methodologies for classifying, collecting and reporting data. It is critical to understand the source data before drawing conclusions."
"Municipalities provide so many valuable services to their residents: police, fire, EMS, streets, water management, parks, planning, etc.," Feggestad adds. "I'm not directly involved in providing those services, but I see my role to help the front-line departments with the administrative functions so that they can focus on their responsibilities. I feel that the city of Sun Prairie as a whole is a very worthwhile place to work, which makes my personal work experience more meaningful."