Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, December 16, 2013

Christiansen applies engineering approach to public policy

Carl Christiansen


Carl Christiansen graduated May 2015 with a Master of Public Affairs.

Carl Christiansen knew he chose the correct public policy graduate program when he went to a seminar on the Affordable Care Act given by a well-known economist and encountered 10 other students from the La Follette School of Public Affairs.

"I just went to the seminar because it sounded interesting," the first-year energy analysis student says, "and there we were all together — and none of us in health policy. Rather, we all are about knowing what is going on with public policy. A really attractive aspect of the La Follette School is that everyone is engaged in policy and focused on doing something. Everyone is pretty driven."

Christiansen is pursuing a Master of Public Affairs and a certificate in energy analysis and policy. He graduated from the University of Iowa in May 2013 with degrees in mechanical engineering and political science. "I am interested in learning about energy and environmental policy," Christiansen says. "I want a career working for the government, where I can apply my engineering and political science knowledge to develop policies that promote sustainable technology and practices."

Policy has an impact on everything in the United States, Christiansen says, so working in public affairs will be a good way to positively influence changes. After two years of undergraduate engineering courses, he adds, he saw that even with all the technological advances, engineers by themselves operate within a lot of constraints and cannot make changes by themselves.

"I was also taking political science electives, and I started to think that maybe I could use my engineering background in the policy arena," Christiansen says. "From my involvement with a student organization called Engineers for a Sustainable World, I started to see how little changes can make a big impact."

He researched policy schools. "Asking around Iowa, I found La Follette has a good reputation and people recommended it," Christiansen says. "I looked at the web site and found that the faculty have interests that match mine, Greg Nemet in particular."

Christiansen emphasizes the value of the La Follette School's small program. "We have a small cohort, the professors know my name without me having to try — they make a point of learning who we are," he says.

"The small classes create a closeness among the students so that we are all working together," he adds. "Everyone here knows why they are here and what they want to do."

Christiansen is also collaborating with students through service as co-vice president with the La Follette School Student Association. "I thought it would be a good way to engage and get to know faculty, staff and second-year students," he says.

Nearly halfway through his first year, Christiansen says he recommends the school for its skills focus. "Microeconomics and statistics are good to know," he says. "A lot of politicians are just talking and making unsubstantiated claims or giving their opinions without any information to back them up. To me, it's more important to get the right answers, even if the answer is not one you like. Engineers try to look for the right answer — perhaps to answer why a bridge fell down. Bad information leads to a bad policy result. Knowing statistics and economics will help me to contribute to making to good policy."