Alumni launch professional careers in public policy after completing accelerated degree

The accelerated master’s program offered by the La Follette School provides students with a unique opportunity to fast-track their education, acquire professional skills, and begin a career in public policy. Accepted UW–Madison undergraduates can expedite their entry into the MPA or MIPA program by enrolling in graduate-level public affairs courses during the final year of their bachelor’s program. Following the completion of their undergraduate requirements, these students begin a fifth year of full-time graduate study at the La Follette School. This program significantly reduces the financial burden of receiving a master’s degree, as accelerated students are only responsible for one additional year of education beyond their bachelor’s degree. Many alumni of the accelerated program have gone on to lead successful careers in public policy, governmental, and non-profit work, using the experience and opportunities offered by the La Follette School, and maximizing the benefits of their time in the program.

Jonny Vannucci (MIPA ’19)

Portrait of Jonny VannucciJonny Vannucci completed a MIPA degree in 2019 after receiving bachelor’s degrees in environmental studies and geography. Vannucci decided to pursue an accelerated MIPA to obtain a toolset that would allow him to impact policy, governmental, and social change, especially concerning climate and equity issues.

Vannucci remembers his capstone project at La Follette as a momentous experience for his professional career. “The process of working with a team and capitalizing on everyone’s strengths, receiving and incorporating feedback from clients, and delivering a professional presentation helped me obtain and succeed in my job today,” he says. With the help of a La Follette scholarship program, Vannucci participated in an internship with the United Nations at the UN headquarters in New York. “This was a formative experience that helped launch my career in international affairs. I have now been able to work on international projects at my current role,” he says.

Vannucci says that some of his greatest resources at La Follette were the brilliant students in the program. He advises La Follette students to take advantage of the distinguished and inclusive environment, and absorb knowledge from, problem-solve, and grow with their peers. Vannucci says that working and learning from students with diverse backgrounds and perspectives has substantially helped him in both his academic and professional endeavors.

Now, Vannucci works as a government and public sector consultant at Deloitte, working with public sector clients to help make government agencies as effective as possible for the American people. His recent work has included incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives into federal government recruitment and workplace cultures, executive-level project management to drive the federal government’s cybersecurity-related efforts, and internal and external communications to circulate and publicize government initiatives and opportunities. Vannucci’s long-term career goal is to have a substantial impact in climate action and incorporating sustainable practices.

Omer Arain (MIPA ’18)

Portrait of Omer ArainAfter receiving bachelor’s degrees in economics and political science, Omer Arain completed an accelerated MIPA degree in 2018. “It seemed like a natural extension of my undergraduate education, and the ability to complete the degree in one year after undergrad was quite enticing,” he says.

After finishing the accelerated degree at La Follette, Arain worked as a strategic research analyst at the Strategic Organizing Center in Washington, D.C. In this position, he administered and analyzed surveys of workers and consumers, developed corporate profiles concerning business activity and board composition, and submitted public information requests. Chiefly, Arain conducted quantitative research in support of amicus briefs and independent reports on workplace and consumer safety.

Arain advises students to take advantage of the accelerated degree program the La Follette School offers as an opportunity to save time and money. “The faculty and staff coming out of that little house on Observatory Drive are incredibly accomplished, intelligent, kind, and dedicated to helping students,” he says. “I had a wonderful experience and perhaps the only downside was that I could not spend more time with them.”

Arain believes his exposure to different policy areas during his La Follette education made him more marketable as a job candidate in a wide variety of fields. He says his time at La Follette improved his writing ability immensely, allowing him to master the skill of conveying complicated technical information in a plain, concise manner, which he has found very useful in his professional career.

Arain is currently a second-year law student at the University of Kentucky. In the future, he plans to become a federal judge, or to develop a nonprofit advocacy organization centered on open data informing good governance.

Vannessa Studer (MPA ’19)

Portrait of Vanessa StuderVannessa Studer majored in economics and political science before receiving an MPA through the La Follette School’s accelerated degree program. “As an undergrad, I knew that I wanted to work in health policy – and was particularly interested in doing so at the federal level,” she says, “I also knew that to achieve this goal, I needed to further my education and hone a more technical skill set for the type of work I was eager to jump into.”

While at the La Follette School, Studer acquired skills in program management, policy analysis, and program evaluation, which she regularly exercises in her current professional career. Studer is certain that the La Follette School’s intentional curriculum and hands-on experience successfully prepared her for the real world. “I vividly remember having ‘48-hour assignments’ in my program management course where we were tasked with analyzing a given policy issue, developing alternatives, and justifying a recommendation over a short turn – and while I may not have been overly excited to go through the exercise at the time, I’ve learned to love this type of fast-paced critical thinking,” she says.

Studer suggests that prospective students reach out to current La Follette School students and alumni. “La Follette has an incredible community where you can hear first-hand from folks about the program and meet some interesting and passionate people,” she says.

Recently, Studer began a position as a program examiner in the Health Division at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, where she is responsible for supporting the president’s budget and performing program oversight functions related to health insurance. Her day-to-day work includes conducting policy, program management, and regulatory analyses, collaborating with agencies to develop budgets and proposals, and presenting recommendations to policy officials.

Studer says that her participation in the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF), the federal government’s flagship leadership development program, acted as the “pipeline” that led to her work in federal service. “La Follette both introduced me to the fellowship opportunity and equipped me with the analytical and communication skills to be a successful candidate,” she says. “Since then, the PMF program has opened several doors and led me to my current work.”

Studer says her long-term career goals are constantly evolving as she gains more experience and is introduced to more interesting opportunities that exist in the policy world. In the future, she hopes to work in a position that informs important policy decisions and allows her to learn something new every day.

-Written by Clare Brogan

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