Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Kirsten Jacobson, MIPA

Kirsten Jacobson, MIPA

Undergraduate education
Bachelor’s degrees in history and French, minor in secondary education, Luther College, Decorah, Iowa

Platteville, Wisconsin

Expected graduation
May 2017

Why a MIPA?
I have been interested in international education since a family exchange to Tanzania as a child. Since then, I have broadened my international background through study abroad in Senegal, student teaching in Belgium, and most recently teaching in a community college in southern Vietnam through the Fulbright Program. My interest in policy stems from the idea that if you would like to see positive change, you need to take informed action. After nearly three years of working on presidential and congressional races, I decided that I wanted to combine my interests in education and policy on an international level and learn new skills that better inform decision-making. A master’s degree in international public affairs does exactly that.

Research interests
Education policy, international and comparative education, post-colonial development, post-conflict reconstruction

Summer internship
I was a management and program analyst - student trainee at the Government Accountability Office in Washington, D.C. I was placed in the Natural Resources and Environment team and worked with a smaller team of analysts on a technology grant called the Small Business Innovation Research program. My team held more than 30 interviews with program leaders of 12 federal agencies and their respective Offices of Inspector General. I documented many of these interviews and conducted eight interviews myself. I also analyzed agencies documents, collaborated with teammates on how to evaluate agencies, and participated in topic briefings for GAO leadership and client congressional staff.

Which experiences and skills helped you get the internship?
My background coordinating and collaborating in political organizing and teaching may have helped, but I think some of my La Follette coursework solidified my application. In my interview, there was one question asking if I had any interview experience. I talked about my group project from Don Moynihan’s Performance Management course in which we interviewed government officials and nongovernmental organization leaders from across the United States.

Project assistantship
I am working with the Institute for Regional and International Affairs in the African Studies Program (ASP), where I manage program communication and coordinate events and conferences. This spring, I hope to be more involved in the Young African Leadership Initiative - Mandela Washington Fellowship program through the State Department. Last summer, ASP and UW–Madison hosted 25 young African leaders from more than 15 countries to learn about public management. It would be hard to find a more perfect experience for a MIPA student interested in international education.

Volunteer activities
I am the second-year Community Service Co-coordinator for the La Follette School Student Association. In the past, our efforts have included working in community garden, card-making for hospice patients, gift-wrapping on behalf of a homeless shelter, and produce-sorting for a food pantry. In October, we will be doing restoration work at the UW-Arboretum and launching the annual “Penny Wars” as a part of the larger UW Partners in Giving campaign. I also am a new appointee to the UW–Madison Education Innovation Committee and Associated Students of Madison.

Why did you get involved with LSSA?
While working on a congressional campaign in western Wisconsin (my home side of the state), one of my roles was to organize community service events for volunteers. We helped at food banks and community gardens, raked leaves, picked up after area tornadoes, and cleaned out flooded houses after massive floods. There is something special about being there for your neighbors when they need help. You get to know your community better and meet amazing people along the way. I thought this position would be a good way to get to know the community and stay involved.

Career goals
I will be particularly looking into the educational policy arena as well as international work such as the Foreign Service. I am, though, fairly open to a wide variety of opportunities. Some of my most fulfilling opportunities in the past have been in areas I hardly knew existed. Eventually, I may continue my education and pursue higher education policy, teaching, and international collaboration at the university level.

How have your La Follette School courses and/or experiences contributed to meeting your career goals?
La Follette School courses have solidified a foundation of skills that I feel would be useful as an analyst, administrator, or Foreign Service officer. La Follette coursework has helped me grasp a new way of looking at policy issues and how to approach projects. I also have been introduced to new potential employment opportunities at La Follette. I would not have applied to the GAO if we hadn’t stopped there during last year’s La Follette in D.C. career development program.

Advice for prospective La Follette School students
Among the major advantages to La Follette is the University of Wisconsin structure. There are so many interesting people doing research on literally every topic. If you have a specific interest or a general interest, get in touch with those other departments early. Get on their mailing lists and READ your email. You never know what opportunities may arise. Also, keep talking to La Follette staff and faculty, they can point you in the right direction.

People would be surprised if they knew ...
I was nearly a music major in undergrad. I used to play a number of instruments, and I sang in my college’s international touring choir. I also was a singer in a band in high school.

Image Gallery