After serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in eastern Ukraine, Christopher Russell came to recognize Americans should strive to protect and improve the U.S. justice system.
"I realized during my travels that our country's rule of law, while far from perfect, is a unique and very important characteristic," the La Follette School student says. "My interest in international development has directed me toward immigration law and policy, and reminded me that conditions of other countries have important effects on the United States and even Wisconsin."
Through an internship with the Immigration Justice Clinic, Russell spent the summer helping ensure justice for foreign nationals living in Wisconsin whom the U.S. government has order deported. "In defending an individual from removal, we might attack the criminal charges triggering federal removal grounds or seek a particular type of relief, such as asylum," says Russell, who is working on dual degrees in law and international public affairs.
With the Peace Corps, Russell taught English at a secondary school and promoted youth causes. "My Peace Corps service in Ukraine and a subsequent internship with a legal development NGO (nongovernmental organization) influenced me to pursue a graduate degree in international public affairs," Russell says. "Both experiences made me more conscious of how interconnected the world was and how the effects of one country's development (or lack thereof) could travel across the world. I became more conscious of my identity as a U.S. citizen and more interested in being engaged as a global citizen."
Russell started his law degree before enrolling at La Follette. "On a micro-level, law appeals to me because I enjoy advocating for people," he says. "I believe that all people deserve equal treatment in our legal system, regardless of their economic status. The La Follette School's Master of International Public Affairs degree seemed like a natural fit for me and the more closely I looked at La Follette, the more impressed I became with the small class sizes, comfortable environment, strong national rankings and distinguished faculty."
Russell, who graduated in 2007 from the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay, also takes pride in the Wisconsin Idea, the practice of the university extending its boundaries to include the entire state and beyond to serve the world. "I think the Wisconsin Idea is more important now than ever," he says.
At La Follette, Russell is exploring economic, good governance and developmental issues. "By strengthening my quantitative skills, I hope to be better able to measure and understand democratic changes in the former Soviet Union and other young and transitioning democracies," Russell says.
The small size of the program is a major advantage, he says. "It is easy to form relationships with professors. They know your name and are willing to adjust their schedules to meet with you."
After he graduates, Russell is interested in practicing law as well as working in the field of international legal development or development policy analysis.
"Improving my abilities in economic and statistical analysis has been a fun challenge, and I've come to appreciate quantitative analysis as valuable tool," Russell adds. "For example I enjoyed applying classroom lessons in STATA to datasets I received from a colleague in Ukraine; it was interesting to explore the demographic and cultural features which can help to explain tensions in Ukraine. I am confident that those skills will be helpful in development analysis as well."