Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Friday, September 25, 2009

Athlete applies training to pursuit of public affairs degree

Sarah Hurley finds she has little trouble pacing herself as she starts her pursuit of a Master of Public Affairs degree with a focus on education policy.

Sarah Hurley


After graduating in May 2011 with a Master of Public Affairs degree, Sarah Hurley became a research assistant with the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Washington, D.C.

The seven-time varsity letter winner honed her time management skills as a member of the University of Wisconsin–Madison's cross country and track teams. She completed her bachelor's degree in political science in May, the same month she ran her last collegiate competition. Hurley placed seventh in the outdoor track steeplechase for the National Collegiate Athletic Association Mideast Regional, missing the cut to go to nationals.

Now Hurley runs recreationally and ponders quantitative methods for public policy analysis. "Being a NCAA Division I athlete has given me a lot of advantages in preparing for grad school," she says. "As part of the cross-country and track teams, I was competing across the country year-round and spending three to four hours at practice every day. I learned very quickly the importance of budgeting time for homework, athletics and social activities."

Hurley finds her personal fiscal status improved, thanks to a fellowship from the La Follette School that will cover her tuition and health insurance costs and a scholarship from the school's Alumni-Friends Student Support Fund. "There are so many qualified candidates in my class, to receive this support is quite an honor," she says.

Her experience in athletics is also useful in the La Follette School's collaborative learning environment that draws on the leadership, perseverance, confidence and good work ethic she developed as an athlete. She is passing on what she learned as an athlete by serving as an assistant coach for the University of Wisconsin–Madison's women's cross country and track teams. "I couldn't imagine being on campus and not having some role on the team," she says.

After she completes her Master of Public Affairs degree, Hurley sees herself working as an education policy analyst and coach for a university or school district. As an undergraduate, she worked as a web developer for the campus human resources office and interned in the governor's office. Those experiences are providing a good context for her first semester of courses at La Follette. "At the governor's office, I learned about the policy process and was part of a big executive office," Hurley says. "In HR, I learned more about university policy and the importance of professional development for employees."

Hurley is enjoying the transition from being an undergraduate at a large campus to being a graduate student in a small program on a large campus. "One of the biggest differences is that I now see the same classmates in every class," she says, "I like being able to build relationships and make connections with peers both inside and outside the classroom."

— article last updated September 8, 2011