Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, February 23, 2009

Rotary trip to India gives student insight on U.S. public affairs

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Above: Gail Krumenauer visits with two girls living in an orphanage. India's adoption laws are so stringent, and the culture doesn't really embrace adoption, so they will live there until they're adults, she says.

Left: Krumenauer administers polio vaccine. She and her southern Wisconsin group will host visitors from India this summer.

Second-year student Gail Kiles Krumenauer got a new perspective on her career interests in the intersection of local economic development and domestic social policy.

She spent about four weeks traveling the region around the cities of Mumbai and Pune in India as part of a Rotary International Group Study Exchange in January and February. The Rotary program puts together a small group of young professionals to visit another country and learn how their vocations are practiced there. They tour cultural and historical sites, live with host families, give presentations about their district in the United States and attend social events.

After going to school full time for three semesters and working 30 hours a week, Krumenauer welcomed the opportunity to travel and sample different cultures. "I wanted to have a different experience that wasn't work- or school-related," she says. "Every day in India I could experience public policy issues relevant to my degree, but with a new twist. We saw so much and met so many people during those four weeks. We were busy 16 hours every day, but it was exhilarating."

Krumenauer says she has a new appreciation for how programs do and do not work in the United States. One comparative experience came when Krumenauer and her teammates participated in a campaign to prevent polio. "One mother pulled up on her scooter, child in lap, and just let us, perfect strangers, administer a vaccine to her child on the roadside of a slum." One member of Krumenauer's group teammate took the vaccines onto a train during the 10-minute layover at the station to dispense the vaccine. "That could never happen in the United States," says Krumenauer, who will graduate in May with a Master of Public Affairs. The endeavor to eradicate polio, financed in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a core mission of Rotary International.

With Krumenauer's interests in social policy and economic development, visits to a health clinic, water sanitation facility and an orphanage "fell right in step with my interests," Krumenauer says. The clinic illustrated what the private sector can do to aid the poor. "On the one hand, this clinic provides lasik surgery to correct vision, a optional procedure that people pay for," Krumenauer says. "Then the same clinic offers free cataract surgeries on weekends. The hospital underwrites all expenses to transport people from villages as far as 100 kilometers away, including their meals and recovery stay."

"Overall, the sense of corporate social responsibility in India really stood out to me," Krumenauer says. "Granted, the poverty rates there far exceed ours, but with that the Indian culture seems to carry a strong sense that 'we're all in this together,' and that drives an obligation to pull up the economically disadvantaged, through health, employment and education initiatives. In addition, the business community does not and cannot wait for or depend upon government action; both business and social entrepreneurs take the lead in creating positive change for their communities.

Krumenauer found her La Follette School training came in handy during many of the study group's meetings, helping her talk shop, for example, with Pune University's chancellor, who used to work for the World Bank. They discussed the world recession and economic recovery. They also met with Pune's chief information officer. "He has the most difficult job in the world; trying to make an organized system of accounting for people and infrastructure development in a generally bustling and chaotic place."

"Throughout the trip, I could see how my time at La Follette enhanced the entire experience, Krumenauer says. "Every day our team was put on the spot to answer pointed questions about our society, ranging from the economy to our education system. My coursework absolutely helped me to give more insightful and informed answers about the foundations and mechanics underlying our policies and governance practices."

"Another incredible perspective came from staying in India during our presidential inauguration. To see the excitement and admiration for President Obama was inspiring. It was a unique patriotic experience."

Student contributes to report on economic impact of early childhood care, education

In the months before she left for India, Krumenauer was putting the final touches on a report she prepared as part of a two-credit summer internship. She co-authored a working group study on the economic impact of the early childhood care and education industry in Dane County, Wisconsin.

The report, "Early Childhood Care and Education: Economic Impacts in Dane County," was released February 12 by Community Coordinated Child Care, University of Wisconsin Extension, the City of Madison and Bright & Early. Krumenauer prepared the report with agricultural and applied economics professor Steven Deller, an advisor to the working group.

Krumenauer's research found that Dane County's early childhood care and education sector is comparable in size to the hotel industry. "ECE supports other regional and local industries like agriculture and real estate," Krumenauer says. "Compared to similar industries, ECE professionals receive relatively low pay, which contributes to turnover rates in that field."

Prior to the Rotary International Group Study Exchange to India, Krumenauer managed marketing and professional training programs for a Green Bay-area manufacturer. While in India, she used the Internet software Skype to interview for a project assistantship with the School of Education. "With the 11-and-a-half-hour time difference, I called the professor at 11 at night to catch him at lunchtime," Krumenauer says. "I accepted the job on the spot during the phone interview and am now transitioning into the new position, for which I'll be planning a June conference on revisioning Midwestern higher education institutions for the 21st century."