After completing her Master of Public Affairs degree in 2014, Iseul Choi enrolled in a doctoral program in public administration at the University at Albany, State University of New York.
When Iseul Choi completes her graduate school training, she can see herself helping South Korea's performance management system perform better or maybe aiding South Korea's international development efforts.
The first-year student is pursuing the Master of Public Affairs degree at the La Follette School to learn more about the U.S. application of performance management, the creation and dissemination of performance data to decision-makers so they can achieve goals in an efficient and effective manner. "Performance management is an important factor in evaluating the work government does," Choi says. "In particular, I am curious how performance management policy works in Korean government."
Choi is also interested in development. She notes that South Korea, where she is from, accomplished economic development in less than a century. "Now Korea helps and guides other developing countries to achieve their development outcomes," Choi says. "Therefore, I want to analyze social and economic issues in developing countries and build my ability to design policies to help them."
Choi graduated in 2012 with a double bachelor's degree in economics and English from Seoul National University, where she led a "buddy program" for international students. She volunteered as an English and Korean languages teacher at a high school, and she supported a nongovernmental organization that monitored government corruption.
One of the benefits of studying public affairs for Choi is that she can blend her many interests. "As an undergraduate and at La Follette, I have pursued many courses in public affairs, international relations and politics," she says, "which allowed me to broaden my interdisciplinary perspective and see how best to solve problems."
Her blend of English literature and economics has given her a varied perspective. "English literature taught me about humanity and broadened my understanding about human life by showing a lot of aspects of lives," she says. "From economic courses, I learned how to analyze a society with quantitative methods."
She turned to public affairs for her graduate work because public policy can improve people's lives. "I was thinking that policies would be the most impactful way to affect people to get better," she says. "Only a single policy would be able to affect everyone's life directly, and it can improve ways of life in the society. So, I was eager to study public affairs and policy analysis to see how policy can perhaps change peoples' behavior."
Choi chose to attend La Follette in part because it has separate domestic and international professional degree programs. Even though she is in the MPA program, she knows she can explore international issues. She also wanted to study with professor Donald Moynihan, who is internationally recognized for his performance management scholarship. Another draw is the reputation of La Follette and the University of Wisconsin–Madison for its social policy research.
"Public affairs does not only exist by itself but in connection with other areas like economics, sociology and politics," Choi says. "UW is a good campus for pursuing interdisciplinary studies."
The La Follette School's quantitative skills courses in statistics and economics are proving to be valuable, Choi adds. "In 818 Introduction to Quantitative Methods for Public Policy Analysis, I learned how to use the statistical software STATA and to use a regression model to interpret data. The course 880 Microeconomic Policy Analysis taught me how to use an economic model to evaluate a welfare system. These quantitative skills will be a great help for me to understand and analyze complex policy problems, and they will help me as I advance in my career."
Choi appreciates the La Follette School's small size, with an entering class of 50 to 55 students. "Other schools have 100 to 200 students for a year," she says. "The small community at La Follette is great for students to get professional and concentrated training. Throughout the first semester, I could understand lectures because the professors keep in mind the questions and opinions students share in class."
The advice from professors and access to a writing coach, publications director Karen Faster, are also special resources, she adds.
Another benefit of the school's small size is all the alumni and other professionals who come in to talk with students through the one-credit professional development workshop, Choi says. Activities included mock job interviews and presentations about job searches and careers.
Choi especially appreciates the second-year students who are ready to give advice about classes and other issues. "They are cheerful and delightful in helping us first-year students," she says.
When Choi completes the La Follette program, she plans to eventually pursue a doctorate and study performance management and social policy. She also would like to work as a policy analyst to gain experience as a practitioner. "Even though I am more focused on an academic field rather than the practical world, facing the issues of public affairs in the real world will help me develop my ideas that I want to pursue through my research," she says.
Ultimately, Choi plans to return home to South Korea and help her country develop a successful performance management system or work for the Korean government in international development, she says. "Applying successful policies, including those related to economics, social welfare and resources, can help many countries develop and their governments perform better."