Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Sunday, March 22, 2020

Emma Cleveland, MPA

Emma Cleveland, MPA

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Platteville, Wisconsin

Undergraduate education
Bachelor’s degrees in political science, and in sustainable and renewable energy systems, University of Wisconsin–Platteville, 2017

Professional/research interests
Environmental policy – focus on climate change and land conservation

Expected graduation date
May 2020

Why an MPA?
It really began when I was entering my senior year of high school. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to go to college for and was stressing out a bit. I decided to take an Advanced Placement American Government and Politics course, and it was a game changer. I became passionate about the US government systems and how they could be improved. Additionally, I was concerned about the state of the environment and believed that better regulation could help us defend our planet from fossil fuels and other pollutants. I got my undergraduate degrees in political science and sustainable and renewable energy systems from the University of Wisconsin–Platteville, and while I received a really great education, I felt like it was disjointed. I simply didn’t have the skills I needed for the type of jobs I wanted. I decided that to make the changes I believe are necessary, I had to get another degree.  

Why the La Follette School?
Whenever I get asked this question, I immediately think about the flexibility of the program’s electives. I applied to other schools, but they all were so rigid on what classes you had to take. At the La Follette School, I am free to choose electives that fit my needs and interests and in programs all over the University. I’ve taken classes in Life Science Communications, Urban and Regional Planning, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and School of Human Ecology. Each of these classes has offered a unique perspective on policy issues and has allowed me to network with people from a variety of areas.

Additionally, I really appreciate the opportunities to do client-based projects working with local, state, national, or even international groups. For instance, I completed a cost-benefit analysis (PA 881) for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Clean Diesel Grant Program. Additionally, I am working with my capstone group to do a comparative analysis for an international nonprofit organization looking at plans to prevent and counter violent extremism. These projects have taught me the value of teamwork, organization, and how to think on your feet when something doesn’t go exactly as planned. It has also allowed for amazing networking opportunities.

Finally, I truly enjoy the small class size, but with the resources of a large research institution. My undergraduate university was small – 8,000 students total. While UW–Madison is quite large, I still get that small-school feel with La Follette. Additionally, my professors know my name and interests and are always willing to meet to discuss projects, classes, or careers. Staff go above and beyond to help students with, quite literally, anything. It’s a nice community feel at the La Follette School.

Career goals
Have you seen the show Parks and Recreation? I basically want to be Leslie Knope! I am very passionate about our National Parks. I think that’s because our family vacations never included many – we did a lot of trips to cities. These trips were great and I absolutely cherish them, but I long to explore more of our parks and to help preserve them for future generations.  

Project assistantship
I have been really lucky to work with the La Follette School’s Student Services Team this semester. I have been doing so many different projects! A few of my bigger tasks have been creating a spreadsheet with data on alumni from 2012-2018. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but there are a ton of different pieces to put together from various spreadsheets and years. I have also been working on Virtual Visit Day. With COVID-19 creating some special circumstances this semester, it was vital that we had all hands on deck to make sure this Visit Day was a positive and informational experience for admitted students.

However, I have had several jobs during my two years at the La Follette School. I worked with UW–Madison’s Office of Admissions and Recruitment, the State Senate, and the La Follette School’s Outreach Team. Each of these has taught me something new about myself!

Summer internship
During summer 2019, I worked with State Senator Chris Larson at the Wisconsin State Capitol.

Because I had completed my bachelor’s degrees and was working on a master’s, the staff recognized I was capable of taking on more responsibility. I worked closely with staff to prepare the budget amendments for Senator Larson and became adept at helping constituents. In fact, because I worked so hard as an intern, when an LTE Legislative Assistant position opened in the office, they hired me.

I worked as staff in this office during the fall semester. With the new title, came a lot of new responsibility. My main focus was as Sen. Larson’s staff person on the Committee for Agriculture, Revenue, and Financial Institutions. I will preface that these three areas are not my expertise. It took a lot of work for me to understand what the bills were saying and to figure out the best ways to brief him. However, this was one of the best learning experiences I have had. Period.

Advice for prospective La Follette School students
My advice for any student interested in pursuing a graduate program (I’m partial to the La Follette School, obviously) is to do something fun each week! I won’t lie – grad school is tough. Your professors expect more, and you’re working with people who are absolutely brilliant. I made it a point to do at least one fun thing each week. For me, that could be sitting by the lake with friends, walking around the stores on State Street, going kayaking, visiting family, going out for dinner, or attending an MFT (the La Follette School Student Association’s Mandatory Fun Time). It is absolutely vital that you balance school life with your personal life and mental health.

Advice for the La Follette School in particular – find a staff person or faculty member who is in your corner. You need someone who you can go to and discuss anything with. This could range from problems with classes, how to navigate your personal life and school life, or how to find a resource on campus. Of course, everyone at the La Follette School is willing to go above and beyond for students, but it really helps to have those one or two people who know you really well.

Also, work with your professors. I struggled getting my writing style to fit into what Professor Dave Weimer wanted for a policy analysis. I went to his office hours and worked through passages and utilized UW–Madison’s Writing Center based on his suggestion. I kept working and working and felt really great about my final product! In fact, policy analysis became my favorite and most useful class.

Most challenging La Follette School experience
My most challenging experience was the cost-benefit analysis client project. I will start by saying – I had an amazing team, but for most of us, this was our first client-based project. It was tough. CBAs are difficult anyway, but our client asked us to review 10 alternatives (for perspective, normally it’s no more than three). Additionally, it was a really technical project (learning how diesel engines work was difficult for all of our social science brains).

During that semester, at least half of us had something personal come up in our lives. We all took the lead at different times, and I cannot thank my team members enough for the support we showed each other!

Most rewarding La Follette School experience
I have 2:

  • Anytime we’ve had to finish a big project (specifically policy analysis (PA 873), CBA, and I’m assuming capstone (PA 869), there’s just something about working so hard on a project for an entire semester to have it come together in the end. This is especially fun with teammates. All the work you put in together and finally, it all comes together.
  • Moving up from intern to staff member in Sen. Larson’s office. I was, truthfully, so proud of the work I put into this office and how I was able to help the people of Wisconsin’s 7th Senate District. I appreciated that I was able to work on more complex projects.