Checking in with La Follette alumni: Where are they now?

Several La Follette School alumni have graciously agreed to join the school’s March 20 admitted students Visit Day to share their career paths and experiences with prospective students. We checked in with two of the visiting alumni, Ryan LeCloux and Hilary Shager, to learn about how their time at La Follette shaped their career paths and how they are effecting change in their current roles.

Ryan LeCloux (MIPA ’18)

Photo of Ryan LeCloux
“As an alum, it is invaluable to have a network of people with various interests and career choices located all over the world,” said Ryan LeCloux (MIPA ’18).

Since graduating from La Follette in 2018, Ryan LeCloux has worked for the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau as a research analyst. “In my job, I am constantly researching new policy issues and areas of law and writing about those topics,” says LeCloux. He honed these skills through his projects at La Follette, where he wrote on a wide variety of domestic and international issues, requiring him to organize and analyze data to measure results and develop conclusions. The work LeCloux does today directly informs and influences legislation being considered by the state legislature. “The research I do provides more nuance to policy considerations and helps Wisconsin residents more easily access state government and laws.”

While completing his MIPA, LeCloux had the opportunity to do a summer internship in India for a small nonprofit organization. He is still friends with people he met while at the La Follette School. “I thoroughly enjoyed being in an environment in which everyone has their own unique interests and career goals and supports one another,” says LeCloux. “As an alum, it is invaluable to have a network of people with various interests and career choices located all over the world.”

LeCloux’s advice to prospective students is to “enter La Follette with an open mind and be willing to explore new subject areas and challenge themselves.” He emphasized the value of being at a world-class research university with smart and talented people from diverse backgrounds and urged students: “If something catches your interest, go for it—two years goes by incredibly fast!”

Hilary Shager (MPA ’05)

Photo of Hilary Shager
“Since graduating, I’ve worked broadly in the social policy sphere—trying to understand how we can reduce poverty and improve family well-being,” said Hilary Shagar (MPA ’05).

One memory stands out to Hilary Shager from her time as a student at the La Follette School, where she received an MPA 18 years ago. In Introduction to Policy Analysis (PA 873), she remembers picking her project topic out of Professor David Weimer’s daunting, furry winter hat. The topic she chose was, “Should the U.S. government provide terrorism insurance?”

“There was not a topic that I knew or cared less about,” says Shager. “I had just had a baby two and a half weeks earlier and was feeling overwhelmed. I went to Professor Weimer after class and told him I didn’t think I could do it. I asked if I could have a different topic. He told me I could do it and did not let me off the hook. He was right. The experience taught me that I was learning the tool of policy analysis, and that I could apply it to anything that came across my desk in the future. It was a real a-ha moment and gave me a ton of confidence. I’m truly grateful for that opportunity.”

Shager is now the associate director for programs and management at the UW–Madison Institute for Research on Poverty, the nation’s sole federally funded poverty research center. After receiving her MPA from the La Follette School in 2005, she went on to complete a PhD in public policy with a minor in education sciences. She worked as a research assistant at the Institute for Research on Poverty, and then worked as a research analyst for the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. From 2014 to 2018, she served as the associate director of the La Follette School, where she provided administrative oversight of the school’s activities, educational programing, and professional development. “I have basically been working with the same wonderful network of folks, just from different perspectives, since I graduated!” says Shager.

Shager, who was an English and Social Studies teacher before coming to La Follette, chose to earn an MPA because she saw how what was happening outside the classroom was affecting what was happening inside the classroom. “I wanted a new set of tools to help impact that macro-level world. Since graduating, I’ve worked broadly in the social policy sphere—trying to understand how we can reduce poverty and improve family well-being, generally.”

While earning her MPA, Shager took more advanced classes and worked on research projects that helped her build skills that she went on to use throughout her career. At the Department of Children and Families, where she wrote grants and worked on performance measurement and evaluation of various initiatives, she found putting her skills to use in the real-world implementation world gratifying. Commenting on her time at DCF, Shager says, “I am most proud of the work we did to bring a lot of federal funding to Wisconsin to do ground-breaking programming and research in the areas of home visiting, early childhood education, child support, and child welfare.” In her current role at the Institute for Research on Policy, she has used linked administrative data to support evidence-based policymaking.

Shager encourages new students to “take all the methods classes you can.” She also found classes with real-world project opportunities to be extremely useful. “Do an internship or take a job that explores a new area—don’t just stick to what you’ve done before or are comfortable with,” says Shager. “And make friends with your classmates—these are the people you’ll be working with down the road. I am so thrilled every time my professional path crosses with a La Follette alum—they have been so generous in helping to provide learning opportunities for students such as mentorship, internships, and jobs, and supporting partnerships that results in great policy research and initiatives.”

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