Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, March 26, 2015

Prospective students explore La Follette School

Prospective students gathered March 23 to learn more about the La Follette School and its highly ranked programs during the school's annual Visit Day.

"Visit Day shows the many ways that the La Follette School program works with local, state, federal and international agencies to bring practical experiences and projects into the domestic and international public affairs courses," says school Director Susan Yackee.

Visitors came from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arizona, Washington, Louisiana, Iowa, Illinois, California, Michigan, Indiana, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.

"I am so impressed with the visiting students and am excited about the prospects for our incoming cohort," says Associate Director Hilary Shager.

The guests heard from Yackee, Shager and faculty, including political scientist Mark Copelovitch, economist Geoffrey Wallace and public affairs scholar Donald Moynihan.

Copelovitch, Wallace and Moynihan talked about their research interests. Copelovitch studies international institutions like the International Monetary Fund. Wallace examines the effects of health on retirement savings. Moynihan studies performance management.

The professors also talked about the classes they teach. This fall, Copelovitch is scheduled to teach International Governance. "The class provides a conceptual overview and empirical illustrations to help students analyze and understand the foundations and key institutions of contemporary international governance," he says.

Moynihan is scheduled to teach Introduction to Public Management in the fall, while Wallace is on tap to teach Introduction to Statistical Methods for Public Policy Analysis.

"The school's courses are a mix of quantitative and writing skills," Moynihan says. "In the first year, students learn the technical skills and in the second year, they tailor their degree to their professional and academic interests."

Shager provided additional details regarding degree requirements, elective courses, support services, and the LFS's focus on experiential learning. Her presentation slides are available online.

Current students Ben Emmel, Eric O'Shaughnessy, Maria Serakos and Alex Straka shared their experiences about why they decided to come to La Follette and how they are using their time in Madison to prepare for their future careers. They said they liked the flexibility to take elective classes from other highly ranked graduate departments.

"I came to La Follette because of the energy analysis and policy certificate and the opportunity to work closely with faculty," O'Shaughnessy says.

"I like the practical nature of the La Follette courses and the relevance of the client-based group projects we have completed in courses like Cost-Benefit Analysis and Public Management," Serakos says. "The flexibility of La Follette's curriculum has allowed me to acquire a solid foundation of policy-related skills and expertise through taking the core courses while exploring other topics of interest through classes in other departments."

"The La Follette School offers a practical curriculum that prepares students for successful careers in government or the non-profit sectors," Emmel says. "The school focuses on the quantitative skills necessary for policy analysis, as well as the 'soft skills' that are developed in courses such as Public Management and the Policy Making Process. Most importantly, I found that the professors at the La Follette School not only are of an extremely high caliber, but provide opportunities to learn closely from their research and experience. The small size of the school allows for the development of close relationships between students and professors, and I've appreciated the opportunity to walk into a professor's office and tackle a thorny problem."

Four alumni participated in a panel discussion, including 2004 MPA Chad Ruppel, a program analyst with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

2013 Master of Public Affairs grad Selina Eadie says she chose La Follette because she could focus on education policy by taking electives through the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. She is now a policy analyst with Education Analytics.

Eadie told the gathering that the quantitative courses such as economics, statistics, cost-benefit analysis, are worthwhile to take. "I came from a liberal arts background and while I found stats and econ challenging, the data analysis training has benefited my work in the education policy space. As a policy analyst, I often times am the 'go-between' with teachers in the field and data analysts/statisticians, and my exposure to statistics and cost-benefit analysis has allowed me to be more effective at communicating about data with different stakeholders. Public Management and Policy Analysis were also valuable classes: they taught me how to write effective, objective memos that consider multiple policy alternatives — something that I do all the time now at my job."

"The La Follette School is well-know and highly regarded, especially in Wisconsin," says 2010 Master of International Public Affairs alum Rebecca McAtee, deputy director of the Bureau of Benefits Management in the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. "There are many alumni throughout governmental agencies here and in Washington, D.C."

One of those D.C. alumni, 2007 Master of International Public Affairs grad Julius Svoboda, spoke via Skype about his work as a senior oil and gas trade specialist with the Office of Energy and Environmental Industries in the U.S. Department Commerce. "La Follette's MIPA competes with international affairs degrees for international focused jobs," Svoboda says. "The difference is that a policy degree like La Follette's takes you further because of the focus on economic principles and policy analysis — the qualitative stuff from an international affairs degree can be picked up on the job. La Follette made me very comfortable with working with data and econometric modeling. This is a major advantage."

"I can think of at least 15 alumni from my class who are working in other states and were hired right after graduating from La Follette," Eadie says. "They alumni were hired because they went to a great policy school, and their presence in other states will allow La Follette's reputation to continue to grow. But beyond that, UW–Madison is known as an excellent institution both across the country and worldwide. At La Follette, you are part of the larger UW network and can take advantage of the school's reputation, talented faculty, nationwide alumni connections, and frequent networking opportunities. It has been invaluable to me."

The prospective students had the opportunity to sit in on the domestic and international policy analysis courses taught, respectively, by Pamela Herd and Greg Nemet, as well as three classes on March 24. The La Follette School Student Association hosted an evening social at Memorial Union.

"Thank you for the very wonderful Visit Day event," says Margarita Northrup, who plans to attend in the fall. "It was very well organized and informative."

LSSA President Carl Christiansen took prospective students on a tour of the university campus: