Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, June 4, 2012

Public affairs blends Ley's career interests, experiences

Emily Ley


Emily Ley became an executive policy and budget analyst with the Wisconsin Department of Administration after she completed her MPA in 2011.

For Emily Ley, every experience builds on another. The study of ethics and religion led her to nonprofit leadership, which, in turn, eventually brought her to the La Follette School to gain skills in management and program analysis.

She came to La Follette after a stint with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Minneapolis. "I was on the front line of helping veterans access their benefits," Ley says. "For many veterans, the system was not working for them."

The experience with a large federal agency affirmed Ley's desire to work in a community-based organization. She became interested in nonprofit leadership while pursuing a master's degree in religious studies at the University of Iowa, prior to joining the VA. "Nonprofit management taps my interests in ethics, administrative, economic forces and cultural diversity," Ley says.

During her first year at La Follette, Ley worked with the Center for State Innovation on campus. "I collected news releases from governors offices across the country and identified common themes for newsletter articles," Ley says. She gained a sense of national trends, including those related to federal economic stimulus funds allocated to states and to health care.

That experience paved the way for a summer internship with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. "The work at the Center for State Innovation gave me background on health-care reform, which helped me get a summer internship in the DHS secretary's office," Ley says. "There I helped consumers learn about health-care reform, access resources, and tracked news stories on health-care reform to provide weekly updates."

La Follette's public management course helped Ley put the internship in context. "I saw the challenges and opportunities of managing a giant organization like DHS and the level of cooperation and communication required among the divisions," she says.

Now in her second year, Ley holds a project assistantship with the Center for Financial Security on campus, helping La Follette School faculty affiliate Michael Collins with research on online financial education. The study is examining the impact of an online financial education class on participants' knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors regarding financial planning and saving. The results of the study could benefit society by identifying effective ways to communicate financial literacy to employees in work-based settings. Improved financial education will lead to better-informed citizens and increased knowledge and awareness of personal finance and retirement savings.

She earlier put together a literature review on the savings habits of families with children with disabilities, which can become complicated due to Medicaid requirements. Again her prior experiences informed her work. "At the Veterans Administration I learned about disability issues and the effects of federal policy on disadvantaged groups," Ley says. "The more I am at La Follette, the more I find that was that I was exposed to a lot at the VA that resonates here."

Having sampled the nonprofit, federal and state sectors, Ley is not sure which direction she will take once she graduates. Ultimately she would like to work for a nonprofit organization, an environment in which she can pursue public service, leadership and advocacy. "Nonprofit leadership and management are a practical way to do good," Ley says.

"Through my coursework at La Follette I am developing the analytical and administrative skills I need to do rewarding work that matches my personal values and makes a positive impact on my community," Ley says.