Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fredericks helps others build foundation for academic success

Sylvia Fredericks


Sylvia Fredericks began working as a budget and policy analyst for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services in January 2011. She works in the Bureau of Financial Management on Wisconsin's Medicaid waiver programs. "I take a lot of joy in the fact that I get do work that helps people," she says.

She pursued her interest in higher education policy through a project assistantship with the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education. There she contributed to a study the effects of a program to prepare students for college, collaborating with La Follette School alumni Bo McCready and Elizabeth (Stransky) Vaade.

The program, AVID/TOPS, is coordinated by the Madison Metropolitan School District and the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County to prepare students in the "academic middle" for four-year college eligibility and provide them with financial assistance.

"We are examining student achievement outcomes in high school through academic preparation, student engagement, and college knowledge," Fredericks says. "We also are working with AVID/TOPS staff to identify areas of interest and continuously improve the program."

At the La Follette School, she served as managing editor of La Flog and is vice president of the La Follette School Student Association for 2010-11.

In summer 2010, Fredericks interned with the Madison affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a nonprofit network of breast cancer survivors and activists raises money to fight breast cancer world-wide.

Fredericks' tasks included collecting basic demographic and population health data about south-central Wisconsin to write and edit a community profile required by the national organization. Another intern collected qualitative data through focus groups, surveys and interviews, and Fredericks compiled the final profile, which the Madison affiliate organization will use to set its two-year priorities and objectives.

"My internship was particularly enlightening for me as I had never before worked with an advocacy group," Fredericks says. "I learned a lot about Wisconsin, breast cancer, health policy, and advocacy."

Sylvia Fredericks has experienced the good and the bad of Florida's higher education policy.

A beneficiary of the state's Bright Futures Scholarship Program, Fredericks had her tuition, fees and book expenses covered for the four years she spent at the University of Florida earning a bachelor's degree in English literature. The program provides scholarships based on high school academic achievement, and Fredericks' grade-point average and standardized test scores meant the state paid her costs.

As an undergraduate, Fredericks co-taught incoming university freshmen through the First-Year Florida program. "I didn't know this at the time, but many conditionally admitted students at UF were required to take this one-credit class that helped them learn the skills they needed to succeed on campus," says Fredericks, who is pursuing a Master of Public Affairs at the La Follette School. "The faculty member and peer leader for each section kept an eye out for those students who were struggling to try to help them."

After Fredericks graduated, she took a job in the University of Florida's undergraduate admissions office, where her interest in education policy took root. "So many students had a hard time with the school work because they lacked a solid education base," Fredericks says. "Even with Bright Futures covering many of their expenses, I was surprised at the amount of help many of them needed to get through a semester."

Some students used to big-city life in Miami and Jacksonville couldn't adapt to the smaller-town feel of Gainesville, Fredericks said. Others dropped out because they got pregnant. "It was sad to see the number of students who had to drop out," Fredericks says. "Then they would re-apply for admission and try to reclaim their scholarships. It seemed like the university gave students a lot of support during their freshman year, but then it tapered off."

Fredericks suspects a better method exists for aiding students, and so she enrolled at La Follette to focus on education policy after three years in student affairs at her alma mater. "Public service is important to me for selfish reasons," she says. "The feeling that comes from knowing you are helping other people is more rewarding than any other. My desire for a public affairs degree stems from the idea that I can make a real difference for people while making a living."

The recipient of a La Follette fellowship for her first year, Frederick hopes to work on the advocacy side of public policy in some capacity after she graduates. "I am considering positions that relate to poverty and education since my higher education experience taught me that without strong foundations, it is almost impossible for students to succeed," she says. "My goal is to give all students a strong educational foundation before they apply to college or enter the workforce."

In Madison, Fredericks is helping the Urban League prepare students for college or jobs by reworking part of its web site in consultation with the volunteer coordinator. The volunteer position is through TechShop Madison, a campus program that links students to community organizations that want technology assistance. "Most of the volunteer tutors from the Urban League of Greater Madison are based in schools and almost never come together," Fredericks says. "The league wants to recognize them and their contributions by including their bios and photographs on the web site. We're also working on ways to simplify how the web site presents information and how people can access the materials they need to volunteer."

"We established a Twitter account that I'm proud of," she adds. "It automatically updates the League's Myspace and Facebook sites, each of which is geared to a difference set of volunteers — high school vs. college students — as well as potential volunteers and donors. Since the volunteers are generally in college, creating a tie with the Urban League could generate a lifelong commitment to the Urban League's goals."

The TechShop gig at the Urban League is one way Fredericks employs her love of computers. Another is La Flog, the blog the La Follette School Student Association started in summer 2009. Fredericks took over as editor in the fall. "Students need to have a space where they can express their opinion about current events, school activities and policy topics, especially since the blog facilitates feedback from peers and faculty," Fredericks says. She has focused on contributing recent national and international public affairs news, plus some commentary. "The blog encourages students to keep abreast of current policy issues, a habit they'll need as policy practitioners," she says.

Students who post and read the blog will keep their technical skills sharp, another essential for policy practitioners, Fredericks believes. "All policy requires communication skills," she says. "Since the majority of communication is now handled virtually, it makes sense that a future policy professional would have communications technology skills."

"The internet is an incredible way to create ties between people."

Student group uses blog to expand collaboration, policy discussions, September 10, 2009, La Follette School News

— updated March 14, 2011