Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, December 8, 2011

Brunjes melds analysis, humanitarianism in pursuit of international degree

The opportunity to blend interests in China's language, culture and socioeconomic problems brought student Emily Brunjes to the La Follette School of Public Affairs.

Before entering the La Follette School's Master of International Public Affairs degree program, Brunjes traveled extensively outside the United States, taking many trips as part of her job with the non-profit organization Youth With A Mission, an international volunteer movement of Christians from many backgrounds, cultures and Christian traditions.

Emily Brunjes


After graduating in 2013, Emily Brunjes became a data manager/analyst with the Wisconsin HOPE Lab at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Available online

China's Increased Trade and Investment in South Asia (Spoiler Alert: It's The Economy)
Prepared for U.S. Government Office of South Asia Policy by Emily Brunjes, Nicholas Levine, Miriam Palmer, and Addison Smith

"During my time with YWAM, I traveled numerous times to China as well as to East Africa, Switzerland, Mexico and Thailand," Brunjes says. "Through these experiences I developed my current interests in poverty relief and economic development, specifically that kind of development that benefits people in the lower strata of the socioeconomic hierarchy."

Numerous trips to China over a 15-year time span, enabled her to witness firsthand the changes taking place as the country has industrialized and economic inequity has increased. "With all the economic growth that has taken place, the distribution of the benefits has been very top-heavy, with a few people gaining the most wealth," she says.

Through her studies at La Follette, Brunjes has gained an appreciation for the power of good governance and how it can address social inequities. Brunjes focused her course work on gaining hard skills, loading up on courses in economics, statistics and policy analysis. She tailored these courses to her interests by choosing paper topics related to China and economic development.

For her Workshop in International Public Affairs project, Brunjes worked with her teammates to examine China's economic involvement in South Asia for the U.S. Office of South Asian Affairs. Their analysis concluded that contrary to the speculation of some security analysts and pundits, China's increasing trade and investment in the region is consistent with normal economic interests.

Three subsequent Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships from the U.S. Department of Education enabled Brunjes to study Mandarin Chinese alongside her international public affairs degree. She has completed three years of study with the University of Wisconsin–Madison's Chinese language program and will be participating in the University of California, Berkeley's Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies hosted at Tsinghua University in Beijing in the summer of 2013.

During a 2011 Chinese summer abroad program, Brunjes used her one-week field study to explore how people in China think about cultural preservation in the midst of rapid economic development. Brunjes asked shop owners in tourist areas what they thought about cultural and historical preservation. "I found they thought that economic development is most important," Brunjes says. "They don't deny the historical significance of these places, but they tend to think of them largely in terms of the revenue they generate."

Program organizers selected Brunjes' report — written in Chinese — to use as a model for people considering going through the language program, to show them what they can accomplish through their enrollment.

By enrolling at La Follette, Brunjes commenced a career shift. "My faith undergirds my desire to make a difference in China, but I don't see myself doing religious work professionally," says Brunjes, who was awarded a La Follette School fellowship for her first year. "My bachelor's degree in molecular biology fit my analytical gifts, but not my love for people. My work with YWAM suited my attitude of service and love for people, but left my analytical skills untapped. A La Follette degree has helped me marry my analytical and humanitarian sides."

After graduation in 2013, Brunjes hopes to put her policy and research skills to work in the context of international development with a focus on China. She could see herself working for an international development think-tank or an international organization like the World Bank. "It is my sincere hope that my work in international public affairs will create new ways for disadvantaged people to enter the mainstream of commerce, enabling them to provide for themselves and their families," Brunjes says.

Last modified on Thursday, October 30, 2014