Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Friday, April 6, 2012

Inglis Steinfeld gains tools to change system through dual MPA-law degree program

Nate Inglis Steinfeld


After graduating in May 2012, Nate Inglis Steinfeld joined the City of Chicago's Office of Inspector General as a policy analyst. In November 2013 he became the research director for the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council.

Public Service

Nate Inglis Steinfeld presented a paper that examines how federal law affects communication with tribes about disasters on April 11, at the La Follette School conference room.

News coverage

Student contributes to university accountability study, January 6, 2011, La Follette School News

Student group uses blog to expand collaboration, policy discussions, September 10, 2009, La Follette School News

After college, Nate Inglis Steinfeld spent two years watching dedicated public servants within the complex world of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, D.C.

As a project assistant in the Office of Equal Rights, Inglis Steinfeld worked on civil rights issues arising from disaster response and preparedness. "Eventually I decided that I needed more education to pressure the system to aid communities in need," says Inglis Steinfeld, who graduated from Grinnell College in 2006. "I chose Wisconsin as a pragmatic place to get away from the federal-centric and top-heavy perspective I saw in Washington."

He enrolled in the dual-degree program in law and public affairs. The public affairs degree is giving him a good grounding in policy analysis and data management. "Leaving federal service, I wanted to get as many tools as possible to effect change," he says. "Originally, I saw getting a law degree just as a complement to the MPA, as an opportunity to learn how lawyers think. I found out I like the law and have enjoyed the experience."

One issue that followed Inglis Steinfeld from FEMA to La Follette was the law that dictates how the federal government communicates with Indian tribes after a disaster strikes. "Federal law treats tribes as local governments and gives little weight to the historic relationships between federal and tribal governments, nor to the relationship between tribes and their land," Inglis Steinfeld says.

He researched and wrote a paper on the issue for the Wisconsin Law Review. He shows how the 1988 federal Stafford Act frames tribal communication after disasters, and he suggests changes to definitions in the act to improve information channels and promote respect for tribal sovereignty. On Wednesday, April 11, at noon at the La Follette School, he will present the paper before traveling to Vancouver, British Columbia, to present it at the Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management conference on April 22.

At La Follette, Inglis Steinfeld served as the alumni liaison for the La Follette School Student Association. "Connecting and interacting with alumni helps students identify potential career paths," he says. He also launched La Flog, the student blog. "So much of government — and business — is developing and communicating messages," he says. "Having a student-run medium can really benefit La Follette students. But, keeping up that messaging effort is hard — learning about that challenge was a good experience."

Inglis Steinfeld spent the summer of 2010 in Chicago interning with a federal judge. "Being in Chicago was a very valuable experience in witnessing how the third branch of government builds trust among parties," Inglis Steinfeld says. "As Professor Soglin taught in public management, establishing trust in government is vital to delivering service to the public. A respected judge who interacts respectfully with litigants shows good management at its best."

 "I also enjoyed watching the big corruption cases from Chicago and Illinois that summer and then taking that experience into Professor Manion's Corruption and Good Governance class," he adds.

During the 2011-2012 school year, Inglis Steinfeld has been using his policy analysis and data management skills as a project assistant with the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance's Statistical Analysis Center, which releases statistics and reports on police-public interactions from across the state. He also has expanded his experience with programming statistical software.

"La Follette's statistics courses not only taught me how to use Stata, but the holistic approach also taught me how to figure out a new statistics program, which was helpful for picking up SPSS at the analysis center," Inglis Steinfeld says. "Data management and analysis are important in today's data-led world. The skills I learned and practiced at La Follette with using computer software, visualizing how a project's components fit together and knowing how to pull the necessary statistics helped me to get the position."

He expects these skills to increase in value. "Data collection is becoming easy," Inglis Steinfeld says. "Good managers in both the public and private sectors need to know how to deal with this massive amount of information. Even in law courses, policy arguments can arise from quantitative methods and analyses — knowing how these approaches work is important."

The University of Wisconsin–Madison and the La Follette School have proven a good choice. "The proximity to the Capitol, the administrative hub of this progressive and pragmatic state, has been a great asset," he says. "The Wisconsin Idea — the practice of the university serving the state and nation — and Madison being home to an innovative city government and many nonprofit organizations make it a great place to study public policy."

Another benefit of the La Follette program is the many opportunities students have to pursue their interests. "I have both the blessing and the curse of being interested in everything," says Inglis Steinfeld, who spent the summer of 2009 learning about higher education governance in Virginia as an intern with the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. "Although I sometimes think I am too much of a generalist, I have found La Follette a great place to be inquisitive, learn about many new subjects and get deep into policy issues."

After graduation in May, Inglis Steinfeld hopes to work with people committed to good public policy in a position that serves his community. "I really like facing complex situations and trying to distill the subject into something understandable," he says. "I hope to continue being a problem-solver to get to fair, efficient and effective results, whether for legal clients, public organizations or community groups."

— article last updated November 11, 2013