After completing his master's degree, Brett Halverson became a recruiter with Epic.
After five years immersed in state and congressional politics, Brett Halverson decided the time had come to go back to school so he can work at a higher level of legislative policy creation and analysis.
He initially looked at doctoral programs in political science. "Right before I accepted an offer, I rethought my purpose and what that academic direction and time investment would have meant for my career," says the first-year La Follette student. "After a lot of thought and discussion, I decided that an MPA with a political focus was more in line with my career aspirations."
As a University of Wisconsin–Madison political science alum, Halverson first looked at the La Follette School's Master of Public Affairs degree program. "After investigating the school, I found it to be one of the best programs in the country," he says. "Furthermore, the established connection with Wisconsin state government, strong alumni network, small class sizes and quantitative and empirical focus all convinced me it was the right program for me."
As an undergraduate, Halverson became involved in party politics, interning for the non-partisan young voter organization New Voters Project, volunteering for a state party and campaigns and eventually interning in former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle's office. "I loved the environment and purpose associated with working in elected offices," Halverson says. "My experiences interning and volunteering in college directly led to my first job after college in the governor's office, which further propelled me to a promotion and eventually a job working as a scheduler in D.C. for a member of the U.S. House."
The scheduler is an important, necessary and often difficult job in any political office, especially smaller offices like those on Capitol Hill, Halverson notes. "My days usually consisted of scheduling meetings, helping arrange event logistics, booking flights, working with others in the office to straighten out scheduling conflicts, finding polite and imaginative ways to say 'no' and playing 'office host' when necessary."
"I am very proud of the fact that I got to play a small role in the 111th Congress," he adds. "It was one of the most productive Congresses in recent memory, and I had an active front-row seat for major historic legislative fights (especially the Affordable Care Act)."
The experience convinced Halverson that more schooling would be exciting and necessary. To gain a breadth of knowledge about U.S. policy and politics, he is taking a wide variety of classes in many policy fields, along with economics and politics courses. The quantitative training he is receiving will be invaluable throughout his career, Halverson says. "The use of statistical data and empirical evidence is important for the creation of smart, pragmatic policy."
He appreciates that the La Follette School's professors are willing to see students outside of the classroom, with office hours and other meeting times. "It's important to me to be able to follow up on a concept or idea after I have had time to process it, and the actual professors are great about doing that at La Follette," Halverson says. "My undergraduate courses were oftentimes very large, and getting one-on-one time with the head of the class was usually almost impossible. I've found that to be the opposite in graduate school, which can only be called a good thing."
Halverson is gaining insight into education policy through his project assistantship with the Center for High Throughput Computing in the Computer Sciences Department. Much of the work is of an office assistant and clerical nature, drawing on his experience in the governor's and congressman's offices. "I am learning a lot about university bureaucracy, grant and funding processes, and to a lesser degree, the world of high-level computing," he says. "It's all very interesting and has encouraged my interest in education policy as well as technology proliferation and government's place in it. This assistantship has offered me the chance to see the role that academia plays in tech growth, the positive things that universities can bring to the table in the field and some of the negatives as well."
Halverson is getting married in May, and then plans to spend the summer working at his PAship and, he hopes, interning with the Legislature. He is pursuing his political interests by serving on the Associated Students of Madison student government, elected to represent the Graduate School starting in May.
After he graduates, he wants to again work for an elected official. "I hope to return to staffing a state or federal legislator and aid in the creation of smart and responsible public policy," Halverson says. "Public service is the ultimate way for those who have benefited from government to give back and make it more efficient, fair, equitable, etc. I think public service is incredibly important, and I can't see myself doing much else for a career."