Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, September 28, 2020

Heidi Normandin (MA '98)

Heidi Normandin (MA '98)

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

Undergraduate education
University of North Dakota, B.A. in psychology and political science

Hometown
Crookston, MN

Employer
La Follette School of Public Affairs

Job Title
Sr. Outreach Specialist, Director of Legislative Outreach

Start Date
July 2016

What are your primary job responsibilities? I lead our outreach efforts with the Wisconsin Legislature and other state policymakers. I oversee three programs—Wisconsin Family Impact Seminars, Campus Connect, and Office Hours at the Capitol—and work on other outreach programming.

Describe a project that best illustrates your job. My job is all about increasing the use of evidence (research) in the policymaking process, which requires understanding policymakers’ needs and creating compelling events and succinct publications to meets those needs. For example, the beginning stages of planning a Family Impact Seminar involve meeting individually with 12 legislators and one representative from the Governor’s office to select a topic high on the legislative agenda. It’s important that we present seminars on issues of interest to policymakers, not ones that are convenient to us or what we think should be on the agenda. We then convene a group of state agency leaders, UW—Madison researchers, and legislative service agency staff, who give us the political and economic context on the topic and help guide our planning process. We next scour the research to deeply understand the topic and select the appropriate speakers. Each step gets us closer to a world in which policymaking is evidence-informed.

How do you use what you learned at La Follette on the job? The La Follette School gives you a well-rounded set of tools to approach public policy and public administration problems. Even at my first job, I felt equipped to handle whatever project came my way. I knew how to wrap my arms around big projects by breaking them down into smaller pieces and quickly identifying the problems, then surveying the landscape to identify research-based solutions. I do this every day in my current job, and this has helped me become an invaluable contributor to whatever team I’m on.

Which experiences and skills in particular helped you get your job? Working on so many team projects during my two years at the La Follette School gave me a leg up at the beginning of my career and continues to benefit me. You learn how other people think about problems and how to solve them, which allows you to incorporate the best ideas and approaches into your own thought process. You also learn how to break down projects into smaller parts and assign work based on everyone’s skills and interests. One particular skill I gained was becoming more knowledgeable about research and evaluation. I was able to take several electives to strengthen my statistics and research methods skills, which I have used in every job since I graduated.

What experiences shaped your decision to pursue a master’s degree in public affairs? I entered college wanting to become a clinical psychologist. In my sophomore year, I studied abroad and took a comparative politics course (British Parliament and U.S. Congress) and I became hooked on learning about government. I returned to the U.S. and added a political science major, while also bolstering my psychology and political science research skills. I soon realized I could help more people improve their lives by creating good public policy than I could working one-on-one as a psychologist. When I learned about the field of public policy, I knew immediately that would be my path because it combined my love of government, a focus on using research and evaluation, writing, and working in the public sector.

What drew you to the La Follette School? Did you consider anywhere else?
I was accepted into four public policy schools and chose the one that felt most intimate and supportive. I could feel the sense of “family” and group cohesion that I didn’t feel elsewhere. I soon realized this was a more focused program with fewer, but higher quality students, I knew it was the one for me.

Did you have a project assistantship or internship while at La Follette? If so, what was it and how does that experience fit with your current position? I was a project assistant for Bob Haveman. My concentration was welfare policy, and it was a dream to work with one of the country’s greatest poverty researchers. I helped conduct literature reviews, create graphics that summarized key datasets (this was way before software programs were intuitive and sophisticated!), and participated on team meetings where I got to hear how researchers think about gathering and presenting data. It was a wonderful experience that gave me confidence that I could contribute to my organization after graduation.

Why would you recommend the La Follette School to a prospective student?
The smaller cohort, smaller class sizes, and high number of team projects means you get to know almost all of your classmates by the end of the two years. I loved being around other people who were excited to improve public policy and public management and to truly impact peoples’ lives. I still keep in touch with several people from my class.

The faculty are not only the best in their fields and nationally known, they are great instructors. They also are embedded in the fabric of Wisconsin policymaking. They direct blue ribbon commissions and task forces and are seen as the go-to experts by local and state policymakers and government leaders. I noticed this when I was in the program and thought it was what all professors did. I didn’t know it then, but what I was noticing was “Wisconsin Idea.” This is a special concept that no other state comes close to having. It means that professors and researchers at the University of Wisconsin are committed to improving the lives of Wisconsin families by sharing their expertise and research. This means students get to participate on meaningful class projects, do important work as project assistants, and help out at events that reach thousands of people.