Emma Cleveland, MPA ’20

Undergraduate education

University of Wisconsin–Platteville, political science and sustainable and renewable energy systems


Platteville, WI


Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

Job title

Air policy analyst

Start date

October 2020

What are your primary job responsibilities?

I work on several areas in air policy. I work with other policy staff on criteria pollutants and nonattainment areas in Wisconsin, helping research and produce strategies to reduce ozone and bring nonattainment areas in line with national standards.

I also work with transportation issues—specifically, mobile sources (even more specifically, ports) and grant funding. We are creating a strategy for curbing emissions, reducing vehicle tampering, and finding ways to engage ports in more sustainable practices.

In addition, I am the tribal liaison for the air program and the environmental justice (EJ) coordinator. If an American Indian Tribe in Wisconsin wishes to become a Class I area or participate in air monitoring, I work with tribal leaders to accomplish this. Additionally, as the DNR continues to add EJ aspects to its work, I am assisting the air program in determining how our work affects EJ communities and how we can create more inclusive policies.

Describe a project that best illustrates your job

One of the first projects I worked on was the Manitowoc Redesignation Request. Part of Manitowoc County was in nonattainment for ozone; it was not meeting the required national standard. When Manitowoc County attained the standard, the DNR applied to redesignate the area. I organized the State Implementation Plan that the DNR submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency. At this point, I didn’t really know what was happening (literally my first project), but it required all hands on deck working with our technical staff and policy staff to make sure we hit all the required Clean Air Act standards.

How do you use what you learned at the La Follette School on the job?

One of the best skills I gained at the La Follette School was report writing. The DNR’s Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) documents can be hundreds of pages; if I had started this job with only a bachelor’s degree, I would have struggled with this writing. Additionally, having professors like Dave Weimer and Greg Nemet consistently challenge me—asking questions, throwing curve balls into assignments, and making us do some serious critical thinking—has really helped me become a more confident employee. I did not study air policy at the La Follette School. In fact, I think the Clean Air Act was only briefly brought up in my course work. However, because I had these skills, I was able to quickly learn the necessary information for this position.

Which experiences and skills in particular helped you get your job?

I think the biggest factor in helping me get this job was my Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) project! My team completed our report for the woman who is now my boss. In fact, my colleagues later told me they remembered my leadership during that semester in completing a pretty difficult project. I recommend doing as many client-based projects as you can.

What drew you to the La Follette School?

I have said this since I started at the La Follette School: The ability to choose your electives from almost any department on campus is so cool. Other environmental policy programs I looked at made you pick a focus area, but at the La Follette School, I was able to take courses in science/environmental communication, forest/ecology, international environmental policy, and so many others. This flexibility allowed me to explore different avenues and challenge myself to learn about new policy areas.

Internship experiences

I had several jobs while at the La Follette School, but the most relevant was working for State Sen. Chris Larson. I joined his staff as an intern the summer between my two graduate years and because someone was on paternity leave, I became a part-time paid staffer. This was one of the most challenging roles I have ever had. I’ll never forget my first day when the chief of staff asked me to write a briefing paper on a rule that was coming to committee. I had never done that before and was given very little instruction! In hindsight, other staff members told me this was planned. They knew I had more experience than some of the other interns, and they wanted to really get me involved. Which brings me to my next point: If you take an internship (especially one with a political office) do your research! All elected officials are going to need interns, but take some time to make sure it’s the right fit. I will be forever grateful to Sen. Larson and my colleagues in that office for pushing me SO hard.

What impact did your client-based projects have on your education and/or career?

My CBA project literally helped get me hired at the DNR, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that. Many of our community partners are looking for La Follette School students because of the projects we have contributed to over the years.

It is also nice to have a “real” project to do. Theoretical papers and projects are nice, but we ran into actual issues that you just won’t get by writing a research paper. We struggled to get the numbers we needed in our CBA and had to quickly learn anything we could about diesel engines and control technologies. This is the kind of stuff you’re going to face when you get into your career.

Most rewarding La Follette School experience

Finishing our CBA and Workshop projects was such an amazing feeling. They are not easy projects and they consume a lot of your time, but being able to complete a great report with your classmates is really amazing.

Most challenging La Follette School experience

I didn’t want to become a data expert, and I sometimes felt bad only having basic knowledge of the analytical parts of projects—that I was somehow letting my classmates down. Little did I know they didn’t love writing or proofreading and that’s where I excelled. I didn’t understand that La Follette School faculty members try really hard to put together people who have different strengths to make sure you have a solid report at the end. It was definitely a struggle for me though, and I wish someone had told me in the beginning!

Also … stats. Statistics was hard for me. (The La Follette School has tutors, and I cannot recommend a study group enough!)

Why would you recommend the La Follette School to a prospective student?

I can’t emphasize enough how excellent it is to be able to choose different electives. I also appreciated the smaller classes (about 50 per cohort). I was able to get to know my classmates. I came from a small undergrad program so it felt nice to have professors who knew my name and interests. I also love Madison. The lakes (Memorial Union Terrace), cheese curds, and abundance of greenspace is really just … relaxing. I would recommend going kayaking at the start of the semester. There is something really calming about being on the water!

If any La Follette alumni, faculty members, or friends have helped you with your career path, who was it and how did he or she assist?

I have a few!

  • Two of my classmates—Jess Rutstein and Jackson Parr—literally got me through statistics and economics. We created a study group at orientation and that was an important decision. We became fast friends and would help each other out when one of us needed it!
  • Lauren Jorgenson was one of my group members on my capstone project. It was a rough semester with a uniquely difficult project and COVID-19 disruptions. We didn’t know each other much before this project, but I am so thankful she was on my team!
  • Professor David Weimer taught one of the most useful classes I took at the La Follette School! His insistence for excellence on his assignments helped push me to become a better writer and stronger critical thinker.
  • Professor Greg Nemet was a mentor of sorts while at the La Follette School. His expertise in environmental policy was so useful for me, and he was always willing to discuss issues I was passionate about.
  • Steve Kulig was my supervisor in my project assistant (PA) role at the La Follette School, and he was always willing to listen and help come up with solutions to whatever problem I was facing.
  • Mo O’Connor is absolutely your best resource at the La Follette School for campus information. I would go into her office with the most obscure questions about classes, and she would immediately have an answer or know who to ask!
  • Lisa Hildebrand was always my favorite person to vent to—she just gets it, you know? She is also an amazing writer and has been such a big help in reviewing my cover letters!
  • This list is NOT exhaustive. So many of my classmates made me smile, helped me understand a topic better, or helped me on projects. This also goes for the staff and faculty!

Anything else?

I am a BIG Parks and Rec fan. My goal is to someday work for the Department of Interior just like Leslie Knope!

Favorite book, podcast, app, Madison restaurant …

I have so many favorite Madison restaurants it isn’t even funny. I think one of my favorite duties as a La Follette School PA was coming up with a restaurant list for incoming students. So here’s my (condensed) list … I’m sure there are more: Salvatore’s Tomato Pies (I like the Madison location), Gotham Bagels, Tavernakya, Umami, Ian’s Pizza, Blue Moon, Buraka, Banzo, Burrito Drive, Cafe Hollander, Maharani

People would be surprised to know that I …

LOVE American history! I get teased about how excited I am to be in a government building like the Capitol. I have a goal to read a biography of each president!

I also interned at the White House under President Obama when I was in undergrad. I was a communications intern in the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The job was honestly pretty grueling with sometimes 10-hour days, but we participated in some really amazing activities. I was a volunteer for the Easter Egg Roll and the State Arrival Ceremony for Justin Trudeau (Canada). He waved at me and some of his cabinet came and spoke with us. I bowled in the White House bowling alley, and watched Sonny and Bo (First Dogs) play on the lawn while I ate my lunch. I also would grab breakfast each morning in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and would see Joe Biden drive into work every day. Who knew he would become President!