Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, December 17, 2012

Frerick pursues variety of policy experiences


Austin Frerick

Theses examine meatpacking, rural communities

Austin Frerick wrote two studies about rural Iowa and how changes in the meatpacking industry have changed communities.

His summer 2011 project, "Rise of Majority-Minority Districts in Rural Iowa: How Changes in Meatpacking Impacted Rural Schooling," analyzed several rural school districts that experienced relatively sudden demographic shifts because they are home to slaughterhouses. Changes in the meatpacking industry have brought many Hispanic families to these communities. He presented his findings at the 103rd Annual National Rural Education Association Conference and Research Symposium in October 2011 in Hilton Head, South Carolina. He also was accepted to present his findings at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research in March 2012. Presentation available online

In spring 2012, Frerick explored the reemergence of company towns in  American society through analysis of slaughtering communities in rural Iowa. "Big Meat, Small Towns: The Meatpacking Industry's Shift to Rural America and the Reemergence of Company Towns" is under final publication review by the  Pi Sigma Alpha Undergraduate Journal of Politics published by the  political science undergraduate honor society. Presentation available online

For Austin Frerick, education is the best way to improve society and the best way democracy can achieve equality.

"As a first-generation college student, education has empowered me, and I want to make sure that others have the same opportunity," the first-year La Follette School student says.

Frerick came to La Follette after graduating from Grinnell College in Iowa in 2012 with a bachelor's in political science and a concentration in policy studies. "I spent my entire junior year off campus, which was very influential in my decision to apply to graduate school for public affairs," says Frerick, who is focusing his studies on social policy.

In fall 2010, Frerick went to Washington, D.C., and interned with the education team at the Center for American Progress, working with senior fellow Ulrich Boser on tasks related to his analysis of the return on investment on more than 8,000 school districts across the country.

A spring study-abroad in Gaborone, Botswana, let Frerick study policy from the developing world perspective. One course, "The Biology and Public Health of Tuberculosis, HIV, and Malaria," was part biology and part public health. "In addition to our course readings, our professor had us explore the social contexts with these diseases through analyzing the role of poverty," Frerick says. "We visited local non-governmental organizations working to fight these diseases. Additionally, as part of this program, I completed an independent study, which I focused on developmental policy."

"These experiences, coupled with my policy internship in D.C., cemented my belief that I wanted to pursue a Master of Public Affairs degree," Frerick says.

When Frerick returned to Grinnell for his senior year, he completed two senior theses that looked at rural meatpacking communities in Iowa. "My research began when I was an intern for the Center for American Progress," Frerick says. "As I looked at data for Iowa, I noticed that seven districts continually reported the state's highest Hispanic, English Language Learners and food assistance student percentages in the state.

"I was struck by this trend and by the fact that these seven districts are in isolated rural communities that have been historically white. Further investigation revealed that these communities have experienced significant demographic shifts in the last 20 years. Additionally, they were all home to slaughterhouses. After this revelation, I became interested in how these districts responded to the drastic demographic shifts and thus the beginning of my interest in these communities."

Frerick continues to work for Boser at the Center for American Progress as a research assistant on for his forthcoming book, Code of Trust: How Faith in Friends—and Society – Improves Health, Wealth, and Happiness. "A lot of the work I do involves following up on leads for him," Frerick says. "For example, he wanted to know more about 'queue rage' (i.e., people getting mad because they have to wait in line too long), so I found examples of it in newspapers across the country and investigated the scholarship on the subject."

Frerick chose the La Follette School for a combination of factors. "I love the intimacy of the program," he says. "The campus and city are gorgeous, especially the view of the Lake Mendota from the La Follette house in the fall. I'm close to my family. The prestige of the program, especially in regard to social policy, was a draw. And last, the fellowship offered to me was the cherry on top."

He notes that second-year La Follette student and Grinnell alum Phil Sletten was very helpful in helping him navigate the grad school selection process.

The choice to come to Madison has been a good one, Frerick says.

The La Follette School's small size is "one of the things I love most and something I believe that sets this program apart from its peer," Frerick says. "As a liberal-arts graduate, I really value small class sizes and the personal relations that La Follette students are able to develop with the high respected and well regarded faculty."

The practical aspects of the program and access to policymakers are another bonus. In the fall course on public management, students investigate a management problem with a local organization. Mayor Paul Soglin connected Frerick and his group to the Public Health Department of Madison and Dane County after Soglin spoke to the class. "Afterward, our group approached him to see if he could recommend anything to us," Frerick says. "We followed up on his leads, and we ended up studying 2008 merger of the city and county health departments from the perspective of the Women, Infant and Children program."

Long term, Frerick ideally would like to one day be in the position to help craft and implement public policy that betters working class families like his. "Where that takes me, I am unsure," he says. "Nonetheless, the tools provided to me at La Follette will undoubtedly help me navigate the road ahead.

"My experiences so far have taught me that a great policymaker constantly questions, explores and weaves various academic disciplines together to create and recommend the most effective and efficient policies possible."