Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Saturday, July 19, 2014

Elzinga values critical thinking, quantitative skills

Gabrielle Elzinga-Marshall Gabrielle Elzinga-Marshall

An undergraduate course on inequality in the United States prompted Gabrielle Elzinga-Marshall to pursue public policy instead of the political science/research track.

“I pursued a Master of Public Affairs degree because I feel motivated to bring about positive change to communities through being involved in government,” says Elzinga, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2013. “I believe that we live in a unique system in which individuals have a real opportunity to make a positive impact on society.”

Elzinga’s first semester at La Follette prompted her to change directions again, to focus her studies on health and social policy instead of energy analysis. “The case studies we learned about in Don Moynihan’s public management class and David Weimer’s course on quantitative methods for public policy analysis influenced my decisions about my career path,” Elzinga says. “We discussed the implications of our failing health-care system. In addition, my project for Susan Yackee’s policymaking process course enabled me to learn more about the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. All of these projects and interactions with the professors through the courses, helped to develop my interest in health policy.”

Elzinga came to La Follette experienced in managing and interpreting large datasets. She works with her political scientist father and his company, Center for Systemic Peace, a government contractor that researches political violence within the structural context of the dynamic global system. “The center supports scientific research and quantitative analysis in many issue areas related to the fundamental problems of violence in human relations and societal-systemic development processes,” Elzinga says. “Through my undergraduate research assistantship with the center, I gained quantitative research skills that I would not otherwise have been exposed to at the undergraduate level. That knowledge makes the quantitative base of the La Follette program extremely valuable to me.”

“I really appreciate the La Follette School’s interdisciplinary approach to graduate studies,” adds Elzinga, who was community service co-chair of the La Follette School Student Association. “As a person with extremely diverse interests, I have stayed interested and engaged in different types of material. I also have really appreciated the ability of students to develop their own curriculum and policy focus.”

The school’s small class sizes also were a benefit. “The ease of getting to know faculty was a huge benefit,” Elzinga says. “I never feel intimidated to ask for help or clarify on a project. The student-to-teacher ratio made it easy to speak up in class and to have important discussions with classmates who may or may not agree with my viewpoint about what is being studied in class.”

While at the La Follette School, Elzinga was a project assistant with the university’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ international programs. “I helped and advisde students who planned on studying abroad, and helped organize the logistical details of the trip,” she says. “In addition, La Follette helped me to develop an analytical mind that is extremely useful in navigating the day-to-day operations at any workplace.”

The critical thinking skills Elzinga gained at La Follette have been useful on the job. “Our office was undergoing some substantial changes, along with much of the UW System,” she says. “Due to this, I learned a great deal about state funding streams and human resources and personnel within the university system. I also learned a lot about the culture of working for a state entity, and the different challenges and benefits to working in a public agency, which was a very valuable experience.”

“Public service is extremely important to me,” she adds. “The skills I learned at La Follette through our coursework gave me the tools to go into the public sector and collaborate with other individuals to develop ways to make the government work better. I am thrilled to be in a place with so many other people committed to public service, and I believe that we can all make a difference, regardless of our beliefs.”