Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, January 12, 2012

MIPA training prepares Palmer for international work

Miriam Palmer


After graduating, Miriam Palmer joined Madison-area software company Epic as a project manager.

Palmer received the 2013 Director’s Award in recognition of her outstanding academic record. The major criterion for the award is attained GPA, but there also must be evidence of being an outstanding public policy thinker and communicator

Miriam Palmer is ready for anything.

After a summer internship researching tax policies for a Mexican think tank, the second-year student knows she is building a strong set of quantitative skills that are preparing her to work in different aspects of international public affairs.

Palmer used her La Follette School economics and statistics courses during summer 2012 when she interned with Fundación Ethos, a nonprofit research organization in Mexico City that had just published a paper on tax expenditures (often called “tax credits” in the United States). “My classes gave me a greater knowledge and familiarity of the content and language in government reports, which helped over the summer as I looked at tax expenditure budgets at the state level in the U.S., Australia and Canada,” Palmer says. “Part of my project was to help Fundación Ethos identify best practices and find models that could be applied at the state level in Mexico.”

Familiarity with quantitative research and economic theories were also a major plus over the summer, she says. “Those skills definitely helped me get the internship and my project assistantship, while papers I wrote and topics covered in International Governance and International Development Policy helped while interviewing for my internship.”

Woman on balcony that overlooks square.

MIPA student Miriam Palmer’s summer internship with Fundación Ethos gave her the chance to see El Zocalo, Mexico City’s main square.

For Fundación Ethos, Palmer focused on the follow-up to publication of the tax expenditures paper by monitoring and mapping the media outreach and coverage and translating the paper into English. “I created a media impact report that involved finding and quantifying all of the media reactions to the paper,” Palmer says. “It was a new concept to me, and I am proud of it because it shows donors who support the think tank how much free publicity came from the publication’s release and how much advertising at the same level would have cost.”

After Palmer returned to Madison, she started a project assistantship with professor Isao Kamata to evaluate the effectiveness of labor requirements in free trade agreements. “My first responsibility is finding all of the trade agreements that have labor clauses and then categorizing them based on their depth and strictness,” she says.

She also has a virtual Foreign Service internship this year with the U.S. State Department. For a couple of hours each week she works with the U.S. consulate in Monterrey, Mexico, covering economic, political and drug-war related news in a four-state area. “I have had a lot of opportunities that are great experiences and would not have been possible without the skills I gained during my first year at the La Follette School,” Palmer says.

Domestically, Palmer serves as the graduation co-coordinator for the La Follette School Student Association. “I have always enjoyed being involved in student organizations, and serving as graduation coordinator allows me to be directly involved in a very important event for students, their families, faculty and staff,” she says. “The position also expands my experience with event planning, which is a helpful skill for many career positions.”

Palmer earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Roosevelt University in Chicago. “I focused my research on international policy while minoring in economics and philosophy, all great interests of mine,” she says. “I studied abroad in Poland and Spain, but Spanish proved a much easier language to learn than Polish!”

After graduating in 2009, she returned to Michigan, where she grew up, and joined AmeriCorps. “First, I worked at a non‐profit housing organization doing grant writing and implementing a new federal housing program,” she says. “Then, I switched gears and worked at a large counseling and mental health non‐profit. I’m mostly interested in international economics and development, but I enjoy environmental and health policy as well.”

Palmer’s undergraduate coursework and experiences in Poland and Spain nurtured her desire to work internationally. Her involvement with AmeriCorps taught her about the non-profit world, and she came to recognize she would need more training to pursue her career goals. “A master’s in international public affairs seemed like the right course of action to qualify me for the jobs I really want,” she says.

The small size of the La Follette School program drew Palmer to Madison. “I went to a small college for undergrad and really benefited from having accessible professors, so I was looking for a similar experience in graduate school,” says Palmer, who won a fellowship for her first year. “I always want my professors to know my name and be able to email them and talk with them one on one. With La Follette I get this benefit but also enjoy being at a large university, with all of the research, facilities and opportunities it has.”

With her broad range of interests — development, international economics, human rights, foreign policy, health — Palmer also wanted a graduate program that would prepare her for anything. The flexibility of the La Follette School’s curriculum and the resources of the wider campus prompted her to select its international public affairs degree program.

“I got the feeling that some other schools may be looking to train students to go directly into specific careers,” Palmer says. “When I visited La Follette it was clear that I would be encouraged to follow my interests and be assisted in entering whatever career I wanted. I am gaining a broad skill base that I can apply to different areas of development and foreign policy, with an emphasis on quantitative methods and economics, which is why I chose to take cost-benefit analysis, program evaluation, economics and corruption during my third semester.”

Those classes build on the required first-semester policy analysis courses in microeconomics and statistics. A benefit of the La Follette program is that students learn technical skills that transfer across fields.

“The quantitative analysis skills classes are very concrete and useful, and I anticipate the skills being valuable in many possible career positions,” Palmer says. “Everyone wants to take classes that discuss things that interest them, but taking the quantitative classes first allows you to better interpret and evaluate events and research in your interest areas.”

After she graduates in 2013, Palmer hopes to work for an international organization, a business or the federal government, ideally in a position that focuses on development and economics. “I have been volunteering since high school and always thought it was important to help as many people as you can, given your time and resources,” she says. “I think public service is a way to do this for a career and in a more meaningful and impactful way.”

— This article was last updated September 9, 2013