Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, June 29, 2015

Lardinois applies economics, math skills to energy policy

Nick Lardinois Nick Lardinois

Nick Lardinois’ love of nature and numbers led him to the La Follette School of Public Affairs.

He grew up on 40 acres that had been his great-grandmother’s farm outside Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Exploring the forest and creek that flowed into Lake Michigan, and going on camping and backpacking trips inculcated in him a love of the outdoors.

“The natural world was a constant in my life growing up, and it was a place that I felt comfortable and enjoyed spending my time and eventually grew to become very important and formative for me,” says Lardinois, who is working on a Master of Public Affairs and a certificate in energy analysis and policy. “In college, I recognized this passion and began taking environmental studies courses.”

Lardinois came to the University of Wisconsin–Madison as a freshman bent on majoring in actuarial science, as his high school advisers suggested. “Once I arrived at UW, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I wouldn’t be happy as an actuary.” Lardinois says. “I thought that there was more I could contribute to the betterment of society. So I followed my passion, the environment.”

Given that his favorite high school class was economics, Lardinois was delighted to discover Environmental Economics 343, which presented concrete ideas behind “sustainability.”

“I recognized the tools that economics provided to solve some of the issues I was learning about in my environmental courses,” Lardinois says. “I was hooked and decided to double-major in economics as well. A natural progression from there was environmental policy, as this is where those two fields overlap.”

This summer, Lardinois is exploring the intersection of federal and local energy policy while he interns with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program in Salt Lake City.

“I am promoting reduction in petroleum consumption and encouraging alternative fuel technologies to legislators and business leaders, specifically by promoting electric vehicles,” he says. “I am working closely with people from the mayor’s office and Rocky Mountain Power to pinpoint potential electric vehicle charging station installation points and encourage the adoption of electric vehicle friendly policies.”

Lardinois became a La Follette School student through the accelerated degree program that lets an admitted UW–Madison undergraduate take graduate courses in the last undergraduate year and earn a Master of Public Affairs or international public affairs degree by continuing her/his studies with a year of graduate school.

“I knew I wanted to go to graduate school and study environmental policy, and luckily La Follette allowed me to pursue this goal while I was still an undergraduate, which significantly reduced the amount of time and money I would have to invest in graduate school elsewhere,” Lardinois says. “I particularly like the quantitative emphasis this certificate has and the tools it gives you to understand and tackle real-world energy issues.”

During the 2014-15 school year, Lardinois was a research assistant at the university’s Population Health Institute, working with Professor David Kindig. “I analyzed trade-offs between increasing the mean and reducing disparities among health outcomes between assorted demographics of a community,” Lardinois says “I generated methodology to rank 3,000 counties based on individual communities’ relative preferences of overall health improvement versus increased health equality. I projected community-wide health outcomes on a state level, and I used STATA to organize, interpret and manipulate a large dataset.”

That effort led to him submitting for publication an article on which he is lead author and being second author on a couple other papers.

Lardinois notes that what he learned in the La Follette School’s courses on statistical methods for public policy analysis helped him with the research position. “La Follette provided me a useful blend of both qualitative and quantitative coursework that allowed me to conduct effective statistical and literature research and then succinctly write about my results,” Lardinois says. “I used a lot of tools that I learned in PA 818 and PA 819 which both taught me how to effectively communicate complex statistical analyses to the general public. Without these courses, I wouldn’t have flourished in this position and likely wouldn’t be a lead author on a paper and a secondary author on a few others.”

The La Follette School’s size is another plus for Lardinois. “The small cohort allows you to form important, close bonds with not only classmates, but instructors as well,” says Lardinois, who serves as volunteer co-coordinator for the La Follette School Student Association. “The client-based projects are also a major plus. The opportunity to get your hands dirty outside of the classroom is a significant advantage in real-world experience.”

Lardinois is gaining the experience and technical skills he needs to understand and analyze pressing energy issues. “It’s extremely important to have an understanding of numbers and be able to speak the language of numbers,” he says. “This universal language is growing in importance and everyday use. Blending quantitative skills with qualitative skills is extremely attractive to employers and provides the skillset necessary to exceed expectations.”

“One of the largest issues facing the prospect of the outdoors being intact in the future for myself, my children and the general public are energy issues,” Lardinois says. “Energy is at the foundation of the sustainability of our environment.”