Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Friday, June 14, 2013

Gargano Ahmed finds La Follette experience opens health policy doors

Gargano Ahmed to again help plan graduation

For the 2013-14 school year, Anne Gargano Ahmed is contributing her organizational and leadership skills in her second term as graduation coordinator for the La Follette School Student Association, which revised its constitution in 2012 to include more first-year students on the governing board.

"I don't think I realized how much work LSSA puts into fundraising, planning, and coordinating graduation when I first ran for the position," Gargano Ahmed says. "I just figured it would be a fun way to use my event-planning skills and make friends. However, I've really enjoyed being a part of LSSA and I was very proud of the graduation ceremony and reception that we put on in May."

"I think our students deserve an excellent graduation to honor the level of work needed to earn a La Follette degree," she adds. "I think it is particularly important that LSSA have a carryover of knowledge to prevent each class from having to reinvent the wheel. That's why I'm glad that I was elected as co-coordinator as a first-year and can use that experience to further improve our graduation in May as the second-year co-coordinator. I look forward to working with a new first-year in the fall."

Anne Gargano Ahmed wants to make sure consumers are helping to shape health care policy.

"I have always been interested in access to health care," Gargano Ahmed says. "My family experienced the devastating consequences of being uninsured, and I am dedicated to protecting other families from similar experiences. Unfortunately, policymakers often have very little experience with the pitfalls of the health care system. I would like to work to ensure consumers have a voice in health care policy decisions."

After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2007, Gargano Ahmed worked as a community organizer on health care issues for four years. "We worked on issues such as protecting and improving Medicare and Society Security, increasing health care access for people who were under- or uninsured and fighting to clean up a toxic site in a residential neighborhood," she says. "I was inspired by all we could accomplish, but I felt like I could do more if I was more involved in the policymaking process."

During her first year at La Follette, Gargano Ahmed continued working with the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups leading a statewide effort to combat identity theft and running a helpline on elder financial exploitation.

"I was actually on the fence about going back to grad school until I moved to Madison and learned about La Follette," she says. "It seemed like a really exciting program so I decided to apply. When I got in it seemed like a good sign that I should go to grad school. I felt like a degree from La Follette would open up many new career opportunities that I wouldn't have had otherwise."

Now she is one year into earning a dual degree in public affairs and public health. "I love that the La Follette MPA combines so well with other degrees and how being a La Follette School student has already opened up doors for me," Gargano Ahmed says. "I have also seen how being a La Follette student has helped me to get my summer internship and my PAship for the fall."

Anne Gargano Ahmed, right, is interning with Wisconsin Assembly representative Chris Taylor this summer.

Gargano Ahmed is interning with a member of Assembly conducting research on past and future bills, composing legislative briefs, and providing constituent service. In the fall she starts a project assistantship with the Evidence-Based Health Policy Project that provides policymakers in the public and private sectors with timely, non-partisan, high-quality information for evidence-based decision-making.

"These experiences will help me to figure out if I can see myself working for the state or in government relations after I graduate," Gargano Ahmed says. "I have also considered being a project director for a local public health department. I hope to gain some experience in something like that through my MPH field experience."

Although Gargano Ahmed does not see herself a numbers-crunching policy analyst, she feels a sense of accomplishment in getting through the introductory statistics and economics courses. "I prefer classes like Introduction to Public Management and the Policymaking Process," she says, "but it was nice to challenge myself to do something that I do not like and that did not come easily to me,"

Support from her classmates and from faculty helped her meet the challenge. "As a returning student, I hadn't taken a math class in seven years, and I was very rusty," she says. "I would never have made it through stats without our study groups and late-night online chats."

"I also appreciate the small class sizes because I can get to know the faculty," she adds. "Unlike the huge classes at the University of Illinois, I've always felt comfortable at La Follette reaching out to my professors with questions."

Another benefit of being a La Follette School student is tapping its vast alumni network. "I have really enjoyed getting to know my La Follette mentor, Eric Tempelis," Gargano Ahmed says. "Eric has offered great insight into his experience in government relations for Gundersen Lutheran Health System in La Crosse. He also helped to introduce me to several other interesting people in government relations here in Madison."

All these experiences will help Gargano Ahmed take the next step in her health policy career path after she graduates in 2014. "Public service is very important to me," she says. "I am a big believer in the power of effective government to promote equity and offer an important social safety net. I love being a part of that."