By the time Shaun Hernandez was wrapping up his bachelor's degree, he was pretty sure he wouldn't go on to medical school.
After graduating in May 2012, Shaun Hernandez became an outreach analyst with the Department of Surgery at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
While an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Hernandez served as administrator of the student government's judiciary committee. He also spent 18 months interning with an aide to a member of the Wisconsin Assembly, handling constituent services. These experiences made him rethink his assumption about medical school, one he'd held since about the eighth grade.
"I ended up double-majoring in political science and zoology, with the latter mostly an artifact from my pre-medical curriculum," Hernandez says. "I very much enjoy the sciences and left college with a desire to pursue a career in health care, but something told me that medical school probably wasn't in the cards for me."
After graduating in December 2008 and going into one of the worst job markets in decades, Hernandez looked for work then started interning with the same aide, who had since joined the staff of a state senator. "This experience revitalized my interest in government and made me think that a career in the public sector would be a possibility," Hernandez says. "Coincidently, my boss's sister had recently graduated from La Follette, and so it was during this time that I was first introduced to the school and its MPA program."
As Hernandez explored the La Follette School's Master of Public Affairs degree program, he realized it would provide a perfect mix of experiences and training. "I felt that the core curriculum, emphasizing competency in both management and quantitative analysis, would equip me well for an array of career opportunities upon graduation," he says. "And since I still wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do, this suited me well."
He found his niche in health-care management and policy. As a special project assistant with American Family Children's Hospital, part of UW Health, he developed the strategic vision and operational framework for the new Child Health Advocacy Center, advised the program director about operational, human resource and budgetary decision-making, researched programs to establish benchmarks and determine program content, and led projects that supported the center's goals and vision.
A fellowship from the university covered his first year of tuition and helped ensure he could take full advantage of this learning opportunity with the Child Health Advocacy Center. "This was a heavily policy-based position, so I think the 'whole package' that a La Follette education offers—and its general reputation—preceded me," Hernandez says.
That springtime position led to his summer internship with the hospital's administrator, who is also a vice president with the UW Hospital and Clinics. "For the first couple of months, it was largely experiential—attending a lot of meetings as an observer," Hernandez says. "But after I had been there for a while, my boss began to give me more responsibilities; he decided to keep me on after the original end date, and now I am essentially his project manager."
Hernandez is managing multiple projects, analyzing data, developing and reviewing budgets, creating business plans and writing white papers.
Donations from friends of the La Follette School provided scholarship funds for Hernandez's second year. "Without the scholarship, I would have had to acquire a project assistantship for my second year, which would have meant that I would have to end my employment with the hospital," he says. "Since I'm doing now exactly what I would like to do long-term, having my tuition paid and being able to keep working was the best possible outcome for me."
The La Follette School's curriculum has provided excellent training for Hernandez's work at the hospital. "While the management courses I have taken (and am taking) at La Follette and in the Business School have provided me with a great theoretical foundation for how I go about doing my job, I was surprised to discover that Policy Analysis (PA 873) was excellent practical preparation for what is the cornerstone of my job: the business case. A formal policy analysis utilizes essentially the same logic as a formal business plan: defining the problem, explaining the status quo, stating possible alternatives and evaluating them with respect to the desired outcomes."
All these experiences affirm Hernandez's original belief that the La Follette School would help him acquire diverse skills that he can apply in many settings. "La Follette is known for producing well-prepared generalists, and so quantitative skills are just as important to master as management principles," he says. "Although initially I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do when I completed my MPA, I did know that a La Follette School education would prepare me for whatever endeavor in which I might find myself."
— updated June 5, 2012