Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, August 30, 2010

Plagman implements $25 million energy efficiency grant

La Follette School photo by Andy Manis taken July 9, 2009
Emily Plagman

Emily Plagman is using her organizational skills to help build a comprehensive, sustainable energy efficiency retrofit program for commercial, industrial, and residential buildings in the greater Chicago metropolitan area.

The 2010 alum is an energy efficiency project coordinator for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. "I am working to implement a $25 million stimulus-funded energy efficiency program," Plagman says. The grant, one of 25 the U.S. Department of Energy made, went to CMAP in partnership with the City of Chicago, the City of Rockford and other regional stakeholders.

Plagman is collaborating with Energy Impact Illinois, an alliance of CMAP, utility companies, government agencies and advocacy groups, to leverage the federal investment with more than $125 million in private investments; create more than 2,000 jobs; and retrofit more than 8,000 units, with at least 15-percent energy savings per retrofit.

"Together we are working to create a long-term market for improving the energy efficiency of residential, commercial and industrial buildings," Plagman says. "The project is especially exciting because it is coming out of a comprehensive regional plan in which participants identified energy reduction as one of the four most important indicators to track progress toward achieving the plan's vision."

The Master of International Public Affairs grad came to the La Follette School in 2008 from Washington, D.C., where she was a foreign policy legislative aide to Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold for three years. She had spent two years in his Milwaukee office as a caseworker helping constituents after working for a micro-credit non-profit organization in Milwaukee.

In D.C., Plagman worked on foreign policy issues involving diplomacy and refugees. "Promoting international exchange was important to the senator," she says, "so I helped draft a bill to provide financial incentives to get Americans to volunteer overseas. The working group we put together included people from the Brookings Institution and the U.S. Agency for International Development. While the bill didn't pass, U.S. AID created a similar program to what we proposed, so we achieved our goal."

From constituents with immigration problems to people in need she met when volunteering in her community, Plagman has seen how social services and public policy affect people. These encounters reinforce her dedication to public service and keep her well-rounded. "Meeting people with different experiences helps me keep an open mind about how to approach policy issues," she says. "Hearing how people experience social services is a valuable tool for any policy student."

After five years with the senator, Plagman started thinking about her next career step, which meant earning a master's degree in public policy. "Everyone in D.C. has a master's," she says. "It was time to further my education."

At La Follette, Plagman gained further insight into how policies can affect individual behavior while practicing her data analysis skills as a project assistant for professor Don Moynihan. She analyzed survey results about funding a public service program, using Stata to crunch and clean the data. For her summer internship in 2009, Plagman worked on a grant won by Wisconsin's Taylor County to determine whether a health-care gap existed for children and, if so, why and whether the gap had any detrimental effects. The work continued into December when she presented to the Salvation Army, which had funded the county grant.

"At the La Follette School I further honed my professional skills to be able to specialize in the energy field," says Plagman, who also earned a certificate in energy analysis and policy. "Additionally, the small class sizes give students great access to the school's world-class professors."

The small class size also meant Plagman formed strong friendships with her fellow students. "The student cohort is so supportive," she says. "Having close peers going through the same tough courses and solving datasets together in a non-competitive environment was an unexpected benefit."

Plagman strengthened those friendships through her leadership of the La Follette School Student Association as president her second year. To facilitate intellectual exchanges for students, the association board set aside funds to help students pay conference fees. "We really wanted to encourage people to have more policy experience as students," Plagman says.

The group also established a peer Leadership Award given to a graduating student who is not on the association board. "It's important to have well-rounded leaders come out of La Follette," Plagman says, "and to recognize the other roles that people play in addition to academics."

After graduating, Plagman worked on Feingold's 2010 race then became event coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation, organizing its 2011 Bill of Rights Celebration featuring Aasif Mandvi, correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

With that project completed, Plagman headed to Chicago. Although her job implementing the federal grant removes her from the day-to-day results of public service, she knows her efforts will help many people. "There is huge energy savings potential in the Chicago market, and I am incredibly excited to be part of this forward-looking project," Plagman says.

Students honored for academics, leadership, May 18, 2010, La Follette School News

— updated June 24, 2011