After completing his Master of Public Affairs degree in 2015, Matt van Buren became stewardship coordinator with the Taos Land Trust in New Mexico.
After years of working as an outside observer with peripheral influence, Matt van Buren decided to involve himself more deeply in the policymaking process.
The former journalist and political fund-raiser is in his second semester at the La Follette School, exploring public management and nonprofit leadership in addition to the school’s core courses in microeconomics and statistics.
“I decided to pursue a public affairs degree after nearly a decade of working in politics and journalism,” says van Buren, who graduated from the University of Missouri in 2004. “Initially, I decided to study journalism because I thought I was a good writer and I thought learning new things and relating them to an audience would be fun. In journalism school I learned that it’s the reporting — telling other people's stories — that is truly important, and your writing should just get out of the way. My interests turned from music and opinion pieces to hard news while I was in school. Then I went into political fundraising.”
After he graduated, van Buren moved to St. Louis and became U.S. House Representative Russ Carnahan’s finance director. “My interest in politics, governance and the public sphere really took shape during that time,” van Buren says.
He headed southwest to New Mexico a few years later and took a job as a reporter for the Río Grande SUN in Española. He joined The Taos News at the beginning of 2009 and served as assistant editor and reporter. “I wrote about town and county government, education and environmental issues,” van Buren says. “However, although I enjoyed my job and was proud of our award-winning work at The Taos News, I decided I wanted to be directly involved in policymaking. My career in fundraising and news reporting put me on the periphery of public decision-making and helped me gain a deep understanding of and appreciation for the process.”
“I see the study of public affairs at La Follette as a way to more directly advocate for and craft beneficial public policy,” van Buren says.
The La Follette School’s quality program and the opportunity to move return to the Midwest after 13 years away — he grew up in Janesville — prompted him to choose La Follette. A scholarship funded by a donation to the La Follette School through the University of Wisconsin Foundation also was a major factor in van Buren’s decision to attend UW–Madison. “After working for nearly a decade in low-paying fields, I found unappetizing the idea of incurring substantial debt to attend graduate school,” van Buren says. “I am grateful for the scholarship because it helped make the leap less daunting.”
Van Buren and his wife hope to settle long-term in Madison. After he graduates in 2015, he hopes to use his training in public management, nonprofit leadership and land conservation to find a position with a local government or a nonprofit organization. “Municipal and county governments offer interesting and diverse opportunities to serve constituents and one’s community as a whole, as do conscientious nonprofit organizations,” van Buren says. “I am also interested in working at the legislative level, crafting policy and/or doing public outreach.”
“For me, public service is a moral imperative,” van Buren says. “Our public bodies are the most powerful force we have as a people to advance our society, improve the world we live in and act as good stewards for future generations. Unfortunately, governments can also be used to pursue perverse ends, so it is crucial that good people involve themselves in the public’s business.”