Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, March 25, 2021

Manpreet Kaur, MPA, Master of Urban and Regional Planning

Manpreet Kaur, MPA, Master of Urban and Regional Planning

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Hometown
Bakersfield, CA

Undergraduate education
Bachelor’s degree in political science and ethnic studies, minor in law and society, University of California, San Diego

Professional/research interests
Community development, civic engagement, youth leadership, minoritized communities, workers’ rights, tenant rights, language access, rural inequity, racial origins of planning, migration, and resettlement, ethnic enclaves, redistricting, working-class neighborhoods

Honors
• Receiving my community organizing training from Dolores Huerta
• Public service fellow, The Maddy Institute & The Wonderful Company
• City of Bakersfield’s 20 under 40 People to Watch

Expected graduation date
May 2022

Why an MPA?
My decision to pursue an MPA is driven by the communities of California’s Central Valley. After completing my undergraduate degree, I joined the Jakara Movement as a community organizer. The Jakara Movement is a grassroots community-building organization working to empower, educate, and organize Punjabi Sikhs, and other marginalized communities to develop powerful, informed, and organized youth leadership and locally rooted residential power. In my time with the Jakara Movement, I was a part of a team that cultivated a youth leadership pipeline across California, advocated for collective language equity, worked in coalition with Latinx, Black, Indigenous, Hmong, Filipino allies, and sustained large-scale social equity programs—including the Census 2020 campaign, integrated voter engagement, curbing youth substance use, assisting in housing retention, worker’s rights, and community redistricting advocacy. My lens is centered in people power.

In pursuing an MPA, I felt I needed to expand my technical toolbox to develop the skills that would help me be a better advocate for minoritized and marginalized communities. The drive to bring my community more has shaped my decision to pursue an MPA.

I am also a first-generation college student (and now graduate student). My ultimate inspiration to become a policy expert with an MPA comes from those holding a beacon of dreams while carrying the invisible labor as truck drivers, food processing plant workers, farm laborers, mail carriers, convenience store clerks, bus drivers, cooks, caretakers, and so much more.

Why the La Follette School?
While I know I’ll spend my life in California, I sought an out-of-state experience to broaden my lens and get to know a new place and community where lessons learned would be valuable tools of comparison.
Upon visiting the La Follette School, I found it to be ideal for my graduate school experience. Madison is a beautiful city, and I was drawn to experiencing four seasons for the first time in my life!

Academically and professionally, I sought a challenging program that was a catalyst in its field. I was drawn to the prestige of UW–Madison and the La Follette School. I also appreciated the longevity and history of the program.

Also, I was drawn to UW–Madison because of my respect for the history of social change and challenge driven by students and select faculty, from the Civil Rights Movement era and beyond—Chicanx students, Black American students, environmental justice advocates, workers’ rights advocates, and allies who have driven change locally and nationally.

Career goals
To advance the health, education, economic, social, and political power of marginalized communities.

How has the La Follette School set you on the path to meeting your career goals?
One of the most rewarding courses has been Associate Professor Yang Wang’s PA 873: Introduction to Policy Analysis course. Wang is personable (and funny!) while being structured with her teaching and expectations. This course is excellent for a student like me who sought to learn the depth and discipline required to write a real policy memo. From the research, to the sharing out with peers (and even the margining and layout-ing), I cherish the knowledge I’ve obtained from this course and find myself referring back to my notes often—in other courses, as well as in my professional work.

What courses have you taken in which you’ve done work for real clients?
CSCS 742 & 743: Nonprofit Board Leadership
PA 878: Introduction to Public Management
PA 869: Workshop in Public Affairs

Advice for prospective La Follette School students
1. Wisconsin winters are unforgiving.
2. Keep in touch with Student Services and Advising Coordinator Mo O’Connor, she is the most generous and thoughtful human being.
3. Stay curious—the campus is an incubator, thinktank, and its own city basically! You are bound to find your niche! Take classes across campus! Learn a new language!
4. The meaningful relationship-building with peers happens in the small group projects, study sessions, and post-class standing around—where thought-provoking conversations happen!
5. Find a project assistantship! Find a research assistantship!
6. Ask your peers about their on-campus job opportunities, career goals, dual-degree programs, etc.—stay curious and ask, ask, ask!
7. UW–Madison is a PWI (predominantly white institution). It is common to be the only person of color in the room and one’s experience should be anticipated with an understanding of all that encompasses navigating a PWI.

Most challenging La Follette School experience
Being in a rigorous master’s degree program while working full-time was incredibly challenging. I felt my approach to grad school was rather non-traditional compared to my peers. I maintained a full-time job through my second year in a director role with a nonprofit organization. It was a fine balancing act between both. I am grateful to generous professors and their patience.

Most rewarding La Follette School experience
Forming lifelong friendships with colleagues turned Grad School lifejackets—my dear friends Reanna, Hannah, and Alex—we sat at the same table at Orientation and have been inseparable since. We credit the new student orientation for our friendship. Lindsey, Amelia, Shayan, Genevieve, and my Statistics study-group-turned-friends for their friendship, love, and support throughout this program and beyond!

How has the La Follette School changed the way you think about public policy?
I feel I now have a ‘whole-picture’ approach to policy work, from the technical quantitative skills, to the relationship-building with peers, from the longform writing of memos to the project timeline outlining and collaborative working. There is much to apply directly from coursework to the workplace.

Anything else?
I learned a new language while at UW–Madison. Grateful to my Urdu teacher, Muhammad sir!

People would be surprised if they knew that I …
… am left-handed.