Ann Drazkowski wants to do something about the extreme inequality and poverty she has seen.
The first-year student brings to La Follette School a blend of domestic and international experience in social policy. After graduating in 2005 from Winona State University in Minnesota, she headed to rural Peru where she designed development projects that included a campaign about the disease leishmaniasis, a school construction project and programs on sustainable farming practices.
"My experiences in Peru were a crash course in not only extreme inequality and poverty but also the complexity of dealing with the myriad problems associated with extreme economic conditions," Drazkowski says. "Pursuing the Master of Public Affairs degree will give me more tools to both understand these issues and to work in identifying ways to help people, and to identify and advocate for larger measures to ease systemic inequality."
Stateside, Drazkowski gained insight into systemic inequality through her volunteer work with the Salvation Army in La Crosse in southwest Wisconsin. She has worked on several projects to help low-income individuals and families, including the food pantry, coat drive, fund-raising campaign and Christmas gift project.
"Through this experience, I have gained awareness of the scope of local poverty, the daily challenges of individuals living in poverty, and the importance of volunteers and community organization," Drazkowski says.
Drazkowski has worked in retail since her return from Peru, working nights and a few days to save money for graduate school. News that she received a scholarship, made possible by a donation from friends of the La Follette School, has meant she has eased up on her work schedule.
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"I was surprised and honored to receive the scholarship," Drazkowski says. "My work schedule has been very tiring. Knowing that I have the scholarship to help with finances has permitted me to work less, thereby giving me more time to prep for the first semester's course load. I am approaching my return to school with significantly less apprehension as a result. I am very appreciative."
Drazkowski chose the La Follette School's MPA degree program because she wants to return to the La Crosse area and work for a government agency or nonprofit organization to educate and advocate on social policy issues. What she ends up doing for work will depend on what she ends up studying — and she knows that the skills she learns at La Follette will apply in many policy fields.
Drazkowski looks forward to building her quantitative skills at La Follette. "Being able to empirically state and study information will help me bolster my understanding of issues and help me approach data honestly and openly," she says. "La Follette offers a wide range of courses of study and skill-building within the institution and through its connections with the greater University of Wisconsin–Madison campus."
Through her work in Peru and La Crosse, Drazkowski has learned how to empathize with people from a variety of backgrounds. "My definition of empathy is not limited to compassion or pity," she says. "Rather, empathy involves understanding the constraints stakeholders have and what their broader environment reinforces and teaches. These lessons apply not just to people who benefit from a public service but also to donors, non-profit or government staff, anyone who has a stake, no matter how small, in the service. By understanding all these people, many of whom have opinions that clash, I can have a broader understanding of people and so do more to help people improve their situations."