Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Patz expands opportunities for people to build language skills

Alison Patz

Advice to students

Alison Patz finished her project assistantship with the American Federation for State, County and Municipal Employees in August 2009, three months after she completed her Master of International Public Affairs degree, and moved back home to Green Bay to focus on her job search.

"I was hired by the National Security Education Program in October, but due to a background investigation, they weren't able to bring me on board until February 2010," she says. "While I was waiting, I continued to apply for jobs and network. My best piece of advice is to start applying early!"

2009 alum Alison Patz came to the La Follette School knowing she wanted to work for the federal government in international public affairs.

"I pictured myself with the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development, and I ended up at the Department of Defense!" says the National Security Education Program analyst.

Patz works on two initiatives to increase training in critical languages: the Boren Scholarships and Fellowships program and Project Global Officers. Boren brings civilian students with regional experience and language skills into the federal government. Project Global Officer targets students with an interest in military service who may not have had language or study abroad experience. "Both are scholarship programs that provide funding for undergraduate and graduate students to study internationally; they focus on geographic areas, languages, and fields of study that are critical to U.S. national security, broadly defined, and underrepresented in study abroad," Patz says.

Patz's public affairs lessons — especially those from Public Management 880 and an independent public management case study conducted in collaboration with professors Susan Yackee and Paul Soglin — come into play every day as she works with Department of Defense teams and advocates for her language programs. Patz regularly meets with language and cultural experts from across the Department of Defense. She has briefed officials from the Air Force, Army and Navy to get their support for a grant proposal she is helping to design. The initiative will use best practices learned from Project Global Officers to create new opportunities for Reserve Officer Training Corps students.

"On a given day, I might be reviewing language testing scores, conducting outreach, or putting together a memo for a congressional briefing," Patz adds. "My responsibilities are very diverse and allow me to exercise lots of skill sets."

She practiced many of those skills at her project assistantship with the American Federation for State, County and Municipal Employees. "I generated qualitative and quantitative exhibits for arbitrations, analyzed budgets, edited depositions and contributed to the monthly newsletter," Patz says.

She credits her supervisor, 2006 La Follette alum Martha (Kraetsch) Merrill with letting her take ownership of the projects. "This experience was invaluable," Patz says. "Although the substance of my work now is very different than what I did as a PA, the way in which I do my work is very similar."

As for her own language skills, Patz picked up Moroccan-dialect Arabic while in Morocco with the Peace Corps as a youth development volunteer, teaching English as a second language. The native of Green Bay, Wisconsin, joined the Peace Corps after graduating from Smith College in 2004. She served as secretary of the La Follette School Student Association and was inducted into the national public affairs honor society Pi Alpha Alpha.

The resources of the wider University of Wisconsin–Madison campus and the flexibility of La Follette School's international public affairs program meant Patz could continue studying Arabic. She also served as a student delegate at the Women as Global Leaders Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in March 2008 during her first year at La Follette.

Patz spent the summer between her first and second years at La Follette in Cairo, Egypt, as a fellow with the Boren program for which she now works. "My experience as a fellow was incredible and definitely informs the ways in which I am working to improve the program now," she says.

"I was one of the few American students to have a non-American roommate at my Cairo dormitory," Patz says. "Nawar, a Syrian-Palestinian who had lived throughout the Middle East, allowed me unique access to the native Arabic speaker population on the campus."

Nawar welcomed Patz into her predominantly Egyptian group of friends. "We regularly discussed current events, Egyptian and Arab culture, American and Western culture, and various theories of education," Patz says. "These discussions were an excellent way not only to improve my language ability, but also to form meaningful, cross-cultural friendships and dispel stereotypes."

Student wins scholarship to Dubai conference on leadership, October 15, 2007, La Follette School News

— updated March 21, 2011