Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Friday, November 15, 2013

DC alumni share career experience, advice with students

Based on the number of business cards swapped, hands shaken and questions asked, the first "La Follette in D.C." program was an outstanding success in bringing students to the U.S. capital to meet alumni and employers.

People sitting in conference room listening to man talk.

Above: Gene Steuerle of the Urban Institute talks with La Follette School students. Below: Students and, standing on the far right, alum Andrew Trembley at the World Bank.

people standing and sitting in two rows
people standing

La Follette School alumni who work at the Government Accountability Office. In back are UW-Madison alum Kevin Remondini and La Follette alum Joe Thompson. The others, from left, are Rachel Svoboda, Dan Kaneshiro, Alexis MacDonald, Lilly Shields, Kate Amoroso, Jenny Grover, Kate Nast, Melissa Swearingen and Christie Enders.

Students returned to Madison energized about their career choice after visiting Millennium Challenge Corporation, Urban Institute, World Bank, Government Accountability Office and Congressional Budget Office, all of which employ La Follette School alumni.

"Talking with alumni working at those institutions was very interesting and motivating," says first-year student Carl Christiansen, who is pursuing a Master of Public Affairs degree and a certificate in energy and policy analysis. "Honestly, before this trip, when the people at La Follette talked about the reach of the alumni, I thought they were exaggerating, but I was surprised and impressed when I saw the presence La Follette has in DC."

At each stop, agency officials and La Follette alumni greeted the students and answered their questions about getting internships and jobs in the nation's capital. The students got advice about work-life balance, tips on needed skills and insights on policy issues. At GAO, alums even provided homemade cookies and apple bars for the visitors.

"I appreciated the opportunity to tell the students more about GAO, to help them better understand the scope of our work and to dispel the misconception that we're 'a bunch of accountants.'" says GAO analyst Alexis MacDonald, a 2008 MPA.

"Every single alumni emphasized the need to develop an individual skill set, especially in quantitative skills," says first-year MPA student Ben Emmel. "These are the tools that are in high demand by employers and will allow us to become more effective policymakers. In addition, developing that skill set lets us stand out after we graduate and allow us to find impactful work."

"GAO alumni enjoyed engaging in person with so many current students and especially liked discussing how well the lessons they learned at La Follette apply to the real world of policy analysis," says GAO analyst Kate Amoroso, a 2007 MPA.

2003 MPA Joe Thompson, a senior analyst with the GAO's Natural Resources and Environment Team, talked about his work advocating the importance of climate change to Congress. "That resonated with me because I wouldn't have considered an agency like the GAO to work in energy and sustainability issues, so it made me realize that there are a lot of areas in public affairs that would have meaningful work for me that I never considered," Christiansen says.

Steph Mabrey, who is in her second year of the MPA program, found the GAO visit valuable because of the number of alumni present to speak with students. "I appreciated that they allowed time for networking at the end of our visit," Mabrey says. "The variety of perspectives gave us a lot of different views regarding getting a job there and the work environment, as well as a lot of people with different interest areas to consult with."

Andria Hayes-Birchler, a 2008 Master of International Public Affairs alum, coordinated the visit to the MCC. At the Urban Institute, students heard from Gene Steuerle, who earned a 1972 master's degree from the La Follette School precursor the Center for the Study of Public Policy and Administration before completing a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. 2012 MIPA Andrew Trembley shared his experiences as an education consultant at the World Bank.

"The care and planning that alumni put into preparing for the site visits is very much appreciated," says outreach specialist Bridget Pirsch, who coordinated the visits with outreach director Terry Shelton.

At the Congressional Budget Office, Kirstin Blom, 2002 MIPA, spoke with students, as did deputy human resources director Nancy Fahey. Alumni Dan Frisk, 2001 MPA, and Mark Hadley, 1997 MA, also said hello.

"The alumni did a great job in explaining their agencies' hiring processes, what their jobs are like and how they use the skills they learned at La Follette," says student services coordinator Mary Treleven, who staffed the trip with Shelton and Pirsch. "We also appreciate the many alumni who conducted informational interviews with individual students."

A panel lunch with consultants on the ups and downs of that career choice featured Phil Kangas of Grant Thornton Consulting, 1980 alum Tony Carroll of Manchester Trade, and Bickey Rimal, a 2011 MIPA with Concentric Energy Advisors.

The students attended the La Follette School's alumni reception with more than 80 alums, friends of the school, faculty, staff and students networking over appetizers and drinks in an office overlooking the U.S. Capitol. Many faculty were in Washington for the fall research conference of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management. The school awarded $300 to each of 18 students to help defray the cost of the November 7-8 visit.

"We are grateful to our alumni for their dedication to the La Follette School and for the help they give our students," says director Susan Yackee. "Seeing everyone at the reception was very gratifying."

"My favorite part of both hosting students at GAO and the reception was meeting the current 'Bobs,'" says GAO analyst Kate Nast, a 2008 MPA. "I enjoyed hearing what policy issues the students were passionate about, and telling them about life in DC. It was also great hearing about all the new traditions that La Follette students are spearheading, such as the hunger event."

"I appreciated the chance to talk to alumni who have been successful in the DC scene, both in government and the private sector," Emmel says. "Their advice on how to navigate our La Follette careers was extremely helpful, especially as a first-year student. I had initially dismissed the thought of a career or position in federal government or outside of Wisconsin after graduation. Now, I know that there are many great opportunities in DC, as well as support and alumni who will help me reach my goals."