Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rosen tackles structures to shape social and urban policy

Lara Rosen


Lara Rosen became a budget and policy analyst with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services in April 2012. She continued to serve as treasurer for the Tenant Resource Center's board of directors. In 2013 she became a budget analyst with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

While she completed her double degree in urban and regional planning, Rosen worked as a project assistant during the 2011-12 academic year with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. She also worked as a fiscal policy consultant with the city of Milwaukee to follow up on work she did as part of her 2011 Public Affairs Workshop report on the collection of municipal fees.

Rosen received the Director's Award at the La Follette School's graduation celebration in the Assembly chamber of the State Capitol in May 2011. The honor recognizes graduating students with the most outstanding academic record, which includes grade point average, the ability to apply policy analysis and management skills, and to engage with the La Follette School community.

Academic debate in the classroom wasn't quite enough, Lara Rosen found, a discovery that eventually led her to enroll at the La Follette School of Public Affairs to study social and urban policy at the state and local levels.

Rosen was finishing her master's in Spanish literature and trying to decide whether to work toward a Ph.D. She enjoyed the academic emphasis on discussing important social theories but became frustrated when the debate stayed totally in the classroom. "There was no interaction between ideas and actions," she says. "I found I wanted to do something more tangible to the community at large. A literature degree is not necessarily part of that tradition."

She finished her master's degree and taught Spanish as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Iowa. She saved some money and headed to Costa Rica to use her Spanish to help coffee farmers build their capacity to become self-sufficient and better balance their own economic development needs with the demands of an international economy.

When Rosen returned to the United States, she worked on President Obama's campaign as a precinct captain. "That experience got me excited about community organizing and grassroots support for policy," she says. "I started to think about policy as an area of interest and making public service a larger part of my life."

She realized she could use her Spanish in a public service capacity in the United States. "Public service has always been important to me, but I never really thought of it as something I would do as a profession," says Rosen.

Rosen enrolled in the La Follette School's double-degree program in public affairs and urban and regional planning. The professional degree is giving her a toolkit of quantitative skills she will be able to use in different situations when she graduates in 2012. "I've found that my skill set has totally expanded since I started at the La Follette School," she says. "I feel a lot more capable."

At La Follette she serves as the volunteer coordinator for the La Follette School Student Association. For her summer internship, she worked with two faculty members on their research. For David Weimer, she researched live-donor kidney allocation and procedure policy. For the other project, with Carolyn Heinrich and the Institute for Research on Poverty, Rosen has contributed to an evaluation of the Families Forward project, a nationally recognized pilot child support debt reduction program in Racine County, Wisconsin, and studied the expansion of Families Forward into a statewide program.

"I am on the front lines of the policy-making process, learning about the nuanced ways in which research, data and policy interact," Rosen says. "I analyze data behind the scenes with researchers at IRP, and I work on the ground in implementation efforts with the state's Bureau of Child Support and county child-support agencies."

She continues with the child-support project in the 2010-11 school year through a project assistantship funded through a bequest from Ed Johnson to the La Follette School. "The assistantship allows me not only to pursue my formal education, but also to perform applicable research and experience the policy-making process firsthand," she says. "I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities."

Prior to enrolling at La Follette, Rosen spent a year with Iowa Legal Aid through AmeriCorps. She devised language-access policy to ensure that non-English speakers and people with limited proficiency in English had access to services. "It could be tricky because Iowa designates English as its official language," Rosen says.

Through that experience, Rosen realized she is more of a behind-the-scenes person. For people to receive effective interpretation and translation services, the administrative systems need to be in place. "I found I was most useful in writing protocols, evaluating results and making sure people were qualified to be interpreters and translators," she says. "I found my niche in shaping structures."

Rosen saw how centralized structures can help disadvantaged people. "People who access legal aid access other services, and while I was with Iowa Legal Aid, the county moved everything into one building," she adds. "Coordination is important, and the physical environment plays into how society serves people."

Taking a structural approach also separates Rosen a bit from the constant crisis situations inherent in being a direct service provider. "It could be taxing emotionally," Rosen says. "I learned I'd rather not always be reacting to a crisis. I want to shape institutions that create frameworks to avert crisis."

Last modified on Wednesday, November 12, 2014