Working with immigrant children in two countries showed Katie Lorenze that too often politicians pass legislation focused on broad, vague ideas and without thought for the often unintended consequences.
"In Spain and the United States, I saw how bad public policy affects children and families every day," the second-year La Follette School student says.
After Lorenze completed her bachelor's degree at the University of Wisconsin– Madison, she headed to Spain to teach English and work as a language and cultural assistant for the Ministry of Education. Many of her students were immigrants, and she saw parallels between their lives and those of the children enrolled in Dane County Head Start in Madison, where she worked as a bilingual outreach worker after returning to Madison.
While an undergraduate, Lorenze thought she would go on to medical school. She was a Spanish interpreter for a free clinic run by the UW medical school and a research assistant for the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and the Gastroenterology and Hepatology Clinical Research Office. She volunteered as a Spanish interpreter for the law school's Economic Justice Institute in Madison and as an English teacher in Santiago, Chile, where she studied abroad.
"My experience working with immigrant populations and low-income communities is what ultimately piqued my interest in public policy," Lorenze says. "From my work with the free medical and law clinics, I saw how low-income individuals are so poorly served by our current systems."
During her senior year, Lorenze made the life-altering decision to not pursue medical school and ended up majoring in Spanish language and Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian studies. Her then-roommate, Sarah Hurley, planned to attend La Follette in the fall. "She is the person who turned me on to the idea of attending La Follette," Lorenze says. "She knew me and knew that the program, especially the international degree, would be well suited to my interests."
"I decided to pursue a MIPA degree because I believe in today's globalized world we can no longer examine domestic issues in a vacuum," Lorenze adds. "For example, I've been following the debate surrounding immigration reform, and many politicians fail to acknowledge the international factors (such as poverty and instability) that continue to push many migrants toward the United States in the first place."
Broadly, Lorenze is studying economic and social policy with a regional focus on Latin America and the European Union. "I'm interested specifically in international cooperation, trade, and migration, and the politics surrounding these issues," she says. "Ultimately, I have a concern for human rights and vulnerable populations, and I am interested in how the political aspects of today's globalized systems affect those groups. For example, much of our current public policy promotes open trade, encouraging the free flow of goods and services, while extremely restrictive immigration policies prohibit the free flow of people. From an economics standpoint, this discrepancy makes little sense."
Lorenze has been pursuing her policy interests as a researcher and writer with the Center for Media and Democracy, a Madison-based nonprofit that does investigative work on money in politics, analyzing how corporations and lobbying affect public policy. "I've been researching the growing trend in public-private partnerships and how different public services have been privatized," she says. "What we learned in the courses in microeconomics and policy analysis about market and government failure has provided important background."
At La Follette, Lorenze is serving as the La Follette School Student Association's faculty liaison. "I ran for this position in particular because I was interested in the opportunity to give more of a voice to the students," she says. "Keeping the lines of communication open between students and faculty is important to create mutual understanding and assure everyone's goals are met. LSSA is a great way to get more involved at La Follette, something I was wanted to do after my first year here."
She appreciated the La Follette School's small size and collaborative atmosphere. "It's great to have professors who are truly available one on one and to get to know your fellow classmates," she says. "The program's small size is really beneficial to me, especially in regard to the quantitative courses. I was out of school for three years, and forming study groups and having access to professors made the transition and difficult classes doable."
Although Lorenze does not envision herself becoming a hard-core policy analyst, she says the quantitative skills acquired in the statistics and economics courses are essential for a career in public affairs. "Even though I might not be the person running the statistics at my future job, I want to be able to understand and explain them as part of my job," she says.
After she graduates, Lorenze is interested in working for a federal agency whose mission focuses on helping vulnerable individuals through international cooperation or in a private-sector job that promotes good public policy, such as an international organization, nonprofit or think tank. "I hope to find a job that allows me to combine my foreign language, communications, and research skills with my desire to help others," Lorenze says. "My project in PA 873 Introduction to Policy Analysis focused on international human trafficking and how to better help victims. I felt like I could be involved in that kind of work."
"Public service is extremely important to me," she says. "Each and everyone one of us can play an important role in improving the world and it is our moral imperative to do so. This is something I learned from my parents. I grew up in a household where my mom and dad helped the homeless, visited the sick, cared for the elderly. As a society we are judged by how we treat the least fortunate among us, and I think our public policies should reflect this reality. I hope to use the skills I acquire at the La Follette School to assure just that."