Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, June 1, 2009

Class of 2009 looks forward to challenges

class of 2009 on Capitol steps in caps and gowns

While they are entering a difficult job market, the La Follette School's class of 2009 should not be discouraged. "Economic downturns have always led to upturns," professor emeritus Robert Haveman told the class at its commencement celebration. "Over the long haul, with your abilities and the skills that you have gained at the La Follette School, you will do just fine, thank you. Just keep plugging."

Honor society inducts first members

Andrew McGuire's speech

Robert Haveman's speech

Students recognized for academic achievement

The La Follette School's faculty honored several graduating students for their academic records.

Allison Quatrini

Evan Johnson

Two students shared a new award. Professor Greg Nemet gave the Piore Prize for Best Paper in Science and Public Policy to Evan Johnson and Allison Quatrini for their paper "Developing Selection Criteria for Successful Chinese CDMs: The Prospects of Chinese Clean Development Mechanisms for Global Environmental Quality." They wrote it for Nemet's Global Environmental Governance course, Public Affairs 866. Quatrini graduated in May with a master's degree in international public affairs. Johnson just finished his first year in the domestic program.

Lauren Benditt, a Master of Public Affairs recipient, received two awards. The first was the Director's Award, given to the student with the most outstanding academic record who demonstrates the ability to apply policy analysis and management skills.

Lauren Benditt

Benditt also received the Penniman Prize for the writing the most outstanding paper while a graduate student in public affairs. Benditt wrote the paper, "Higher Education Access and Persistence: Developing Human Capital and Improving Social Mobility," for Professor Tim Smeeding's course Social Policy Analysis: Health, Education and Welfare.

Benditt focused her studies on education policy and public administration. For her project assistantship with professor Susan Yackee, she learned the intricacies of the federal regulatory policymaking process and contributed to the data collection for two major rulemaking projects.

Emily Engel

Associate Director Menzie Chinn gave a second Penniman Prize to 2009 graduate Emily Engel. She and 2008 alum Andria Hayes-Birchler wrote a paper that won the Penniman Prize in 2008. They wrote the paper, "Sexual Orientation, Harassment, and Suicidal Thoughts: A Study of Dane County Youth," for professor Carolyn Heinrich's course in quantitative methods for public policy. Engel has presented the paper at two conferences in the last year. "One conference focused on suicide and the other on LGBT youth," she says.

Collin O'Rourke

The second Director's Award went to Collin O'Rourke, an accelerated student in the Master of Public Affairs program. He focused on policy analysis. He is working on a study of financial literacy, specifically the effectiveness of financial counseling on knowledge and behavior, with consumer science professor J. Michael Collins.

Haveman spoke to the class of 48 students gathered with family, faculty, staff and friends in the Assembly Chamber in the Wisconsin Capitol on May 16. They also heard from Andy McGuire, who completed the Master of International Public Affairs degree program, and Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

Twenty-one students completed their Master of International Public Affairs degrees, one of them earning a dual law degree. Twenty-seven students completed their Master of Public Affairs degrees. Of those, three also completed energy policy certificates, while three more earned double degrees in urban planning and certificates in transportation policy.

Shirley Abrahamson

Abrahamson touched on the school's namesake, Robert M. La Follette, Wisconsin's former governor and member of Congress who "argued against the power of large corporations and money to control the political process. He urged that the people control the parties, and that both government officials and private citizens work together to determine public policy."

Most important for the 2009 graduates, La Follette tapped political and social scientists and economists to draft his legislation. "And here was born the Wisconsin Idea," Abrahamson said, which "encourages cooperation between government officials and university scholars to solve current problems and anticipate future agendas."

Now, the government, non-profit and corporate entities increasingly recognize the value of policy studies, she said. "I come here today to encourage you to embrace the ideals of the Robert M. La Follette School throughout your professional and personal lives."

Andy McGuire

Ideals were what drew the class of 2009 to the La Follette School in the first place, McGuire told his classmates. "We have chosen this profession in public policy—as we've had to explain countless times—to have influence in the proverbial ‘system,' to work through government, non-profits, or business," McGuire said.

McGuire concluded by introducing Haveman, presenting the longtime teacher of the public affairs course in microeconomic policy analysis 880, with a box of colored chalk. "Among other things, he taught us not to let walls get in the way of progress and we followed his chalk every step of the way," McGuire said.

In turn, Haveman called upon the graduates to remember the basic principles they learned during their two years of study. Of primary importance is the goal of maximizing social welfare. In doing so, public affairs practitioners must remember that every policy change creates winners and losers, Haveman said. Policymakers must ensure the gains and loses are consistent with policy goals: "Equity considerations—empathy—also matters."

Bob Haveman
Bob Haveman

"Third, don't neglect the spillover effects of the choices at issue," Haveman said. Hidden costs and gains may exceed direct effects, especially in the policy areas of energy, environment, health care, education and economic revitalization.

He cautioned the graduates to remember that their decisions and recommendations must resonant with their employer's objectives. "If you work for a government, a not-unlikely outcome, the objectives will be politically determined," Haveman said. "You may not like some of the goals of any particular administration, but in a democracy those objectives have standing."

McGuire acknowledged the challenges his class faces. "Every facet of society is under stress and govern­ments are seeking ways to bring order and predictability to the chaos," he said. "But with these challenges, there are new possibilities. There is fear and uncertainty but also hope in new ideas and a citizenry becoming re-engaged and interested in the affairs of state.  And it is because we have chosen a vocation of public service that we will meet these challenges as participants in the solution, not as spectators."

53 students celebrate graduation with family, friends, faculty, staff, May 22, 2008, La Follette School News