Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, December 12, 2016

Nick Lardinois (MPA, ’16)

Nick Lardinois (MPA, ’16)

Undergraduate education
Bachelor’s degrees in economics and environmental studies, UW-Madison, 2015

Employer
Legislative Audit Bureau

Job title
Performance Evaluator

What are your primary job responsibilities?
I work with a team to gather and analyze qualitative and quantitative information to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of public programs. Frequent verbal and written communication is essential to doing my job well along with critical thinking and a multidisciplinary skillset. Each report includes recommendations to help guide program administrators and the legislature in improving the program.

Describe a project that best illustrates your job.
Each program evaluation follows a similar process, but not necessarily sequentially. In short, an effective and useful program evaluation involves determining the following aspects of a program’s operations: How should the program be operating? How is the program operating? What are the effects of the program operating this way? Why is the program operating this way? How can the program be improved?
This process generally includes gathering and reviewing relevant statutes, best practices, and policies to measure the programs operations against established standards. To assess the operations of a program, we generally conduct interviews, collect quantitative data, and review the program’s internal documents and analyze this information with respect to the standards we found. If the conditions of the program do not match the established standards, we analyze the available information to determine potential effects and causes, and provide recommendations for how to improve the program.

How do you use what you learned at La Follette on the job?
I cannot imagine a graduate program better designed to prepare me for this job than La Follette. All of La Follette’s pillars are exactly the skills I use to succeed every day at my job: critically analyzing both qualitative and quantitative information, using those analyses to draw verifiable conclusions, and succinctly communicating my ideas and conclusions via both verbal and written communication. La Follette’s focus on developing familiarity with both qualitative and quantitative data, exposure to real-world applications of classroom lessons, and fostering communication skills all are extremely valuable takeaways from La Follette that I use every day in my workplace.

Which experiences and skills in particular helped you get your job?
You’ll have to ask my boss! If I had to hypothesize, I would guess that my ability to blend qualitative and quantitative analyses into succinct, verifiable, accurate conclusions about a policy or program was critical in securing this job. This includes capabilities in teamwork, data collection, statistics, public management, memo writing, and oral presentations. I developed this ability from a variety of sources including La Follette (especially the client projects), my project assistantship, and other previous jobs or internships.

Most rewarding La Follette School experience
The most rewarding experience was the ability to build relationships with my peers and the faculty. La Follette’s small class sizes and great student-to-faculty ratio makes this easy. I always felt like my success was important to those around me and my peers and supervisors were more than willing to go out of their way to aid in my pursuit of success.

Most challenging La Follette School experience
To me, the most challenging experience at La Follette was learning how to work well in teams. Figuring out the processes and dynamic that allows people with different priorities, skillsets, and availability to work efficiently and effectively together is difficult. However, the interpersonal skills developed via working with teams are essential and underrated in my opinion.

Why would you recommend the La Follette School to a prospective student?
I would recommend La Follette to a prospective student because of the ability to foster meaningful relationships with peers and faculty that other, larger programs may not present. Another advantage that La Follette has over other graduate policy programs is the flexibility in designing your degree to fit your interests and skill deficiencies that you would like to develop. Lastly, La Follette presents a smorgasbord of opportunities to apply what you learn in the classroom to real-world problems. In the end, it was these experiences that I was able to talk about and point to that I believe set me ahead of my peers as a job candidate.

Volunteer activities
When the weather is right, I help an organization band birds for ecological research. In the past, I’ve served as a counselor at Badger Boys State, an organization that helps high school students across the state learn about the role and importance of the public sphere. I’ve also co-led a service learning trip to Costa Rica through BadgerQuest that focused on breaking international barriers and building connections to people and places.

La Follette alumni, faculty members, or friends of note
There are many, many individuals who were imperative in my career path that are connected to La Follette. First, Professor David Weimer played a central role in helping me find a research assistantship that led to a project assistantship with Professor David Kindig of the Population Health Institute. The skills I developed in these roles directly translated to my success in the classroom and at my current job, and I am enormously grateful for his support and kindness. The value of Professor Kindig’s mentorship and guidance as a young professional that was provided to my career path is immeasurable. Associate Director Hilary Shager and Senior Student Services Coordinator Mary Treleven were always willing and able to troubleshoot my miscellaneous questions and concerns. Christopher McKelvey provided additional valuable mentorship and guidance in my pursuit of a graduate degree and a post-graduate job.

Why does public service matter to you, and how does that apply in your current position?
Public service matters to me because our lives are shaped by our community, which is shaped by public policy. Early on in my life, I recognized that what was most important to my happiness was my impact on those around me. During my educational career, I discovered that few things would allow me to make a larger impact on my community than being a public servant. I find the nuances of policy fascinating, especially how policy often goes unnoticed when it is working well, but when it does not work well, it becomes painfully apparent. Working in the public sphere, and the purpose of my current job, is important and interesting to me because it enables me to guide in finding policies that are not working well and suggesting possible solutions so that my community can support every citizen in living their lives to the fullest extent.

Why an MPA?
There are many reasons that I decided to pursue an MPA. This decision was in part because of my experiences at Badger Boys State as a citizen and later as a counselor. Through this program, I learned about how the government functions and the value that public service provides to my community. However, the condition that was most influential in my decision was my fascination with how quantitative analyses can be used to find solutions to qualitative problems. Growing up on 40 acres in rural Wisconsin in a family that often went backpacking and car-camping, the environment was very formative to me as a young person. For obvious reasons, I took an interest in the environment and through my studies learned that, like most problems, there are many serious issues without obvious solutions. It became apparent that many of these issues stemmed from ineffective policy. Since I was always strong at math (and was one of few who enjoyed it), I took an environmental economics course taught by Corbett Grainger to explore my newfound interest in quantitative solutions to qualitative problems. This course opened my eyes to the world of policy, and how well-designed policy supported by evidence can help address issues near and dear to my heart. This interest led me to explore the policy world beyond environmental policy, and I have been hooked ever since.

How did the accelerated program impact your decision? Did you consider other MPA programs?
The accelerated program was without a doubt a central component to my enrollment at La Follette. How could I pass up the opportunity to save time and money in my pursuit of a graduate policy degree at one of the nation’s best public policy schools? Plus, no GRE!