Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, December 3, 2018

Ryan Baumtrog (MPA, 2008)

Ryan Baumtrog, MPA 2008 Ryan Baumtrog, MPA 2008

Undergraduate education
Bachelor’s degree in political science, UW–Madison, 2007

Hometown
Chanhassen, Minnesota

La Follette School accomplishments/achievements
Project assistant for Professor Dennis Dresang working with Menominee Indian Tribe, graduation speaker

Employer
Minnesota Housing

Job title
Assistant Commissioner for Policy and Community Development

Start date
January 2015

Primary job responsibilities
I lead the development of policy positions and initiatives at Minnesota Housing and direct the policy and community development activities at the state, federal and local level. My team leads the development of the state budget agenda, works on federal legislative and regulatory matters, and ensures that agency programs are meeting the needs of communities and stakeholders throughout the state.

Previously, I was the financial planning director at Minnesota Management & Budget (MMB) where I worked on the state budget and economic forecasts for Governor Tim Pawlenty and Governor Mark Dayton.

Describe a project that best illustrates your job?
My involvement with a new state program called Homework Starts with Home best illustrates my job. In Minnesota, there are over 9,000 homeless students in 67 of the 76 counties. Homework Starts with Home is based on a successful pilot where 90% of families that received rental assistance were still living in stable housing two years after receiving that support. Students in the program had better attendance, did better in school and most parents saw an increase in their income. Some families went from homelessness to homeownership in 2 years.

Based on an evaluation of the pilot, we determined that while some families needed a full two years of rental assistance, others did not. In pushing through a budget request through Minnesota Management and Budget and the Governor’s Office, we changed the program to allow more flexibility so that the resources could be more tailored to the specific needs of families. We worked on the proposal with the Department of Education and the Department of Human Services and gained the support of the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet. In the end, we were able to secure $2 million for the program in a state with divided government. We were able to secure $250,000 in flexible resources from philanthropy. All the projects are unique, but all are collaborations among school districts, public housing authorities, and county government. It’s a great example of good policy and good politics and how providing housing stability can impact other aspects of families’ lives like school performance and family income.

How do you use what you learned at La Follette on the job?
My La Follette experiences are the foundation for my approach at work. The learning curve for my first job as a state budget analyst was steep, and it would have taken me a lot longer to get up to speed had I not gone to La Follette. The more technical and quantitative courses gave me the background needed to navigate complex issues and new concepts. The rigorous nature of the school and the natural competition with students taught me what it would take to succeed and make a difference in a professional environment.

Both my project assistanceship with Professor Dresang and my capstone best illustrate and best prepared me for my jobs. Both of those experiences taught me a lot about what it takes to put together a professional report and presentation while working for a client. They showed me that certain policy recommendations might not be feasible for political or other reasons and that it’s extremely important to think about who the ‘client’ is when finalizing your work and recommendations. Everything needs to be tailored to the relevant audience.

Which experiences and skills in particular helped you get your job?
Well, I definitely wouldn’t have got my first job without having my master’s degree in public affairs. Not only was it a minimum qualification, but I never would’ve made it through the interview process. It was pretty intense for my first job, so my ability to clearly communicate and make an impression in the first few minutes was critical.

Why the La Follette School?
I was in the first year of the La Follette School’s Accelerated Program and was absolutely thrilled to have been selected. I wasn’t ready to leave Madison and after interning at the State Capitol I knew I needed more technical skills and insights about the legislative process and executive decision-making. The Accelerated Program was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I credit La Follette with getting me my first job and providing me the technical and human relation skills needs to do well in state government. The faculty were incredible and known for their work across the nation. Madison is also an incredible place to be a student.

Project assistantship
I was a project assistant for Professor Dennis Dresang, working on a research project for the Menominee Indian Tribe. Tragically, the Menominee Indian Tribe, a thriving, self-staining, and model example of tribal governance was devastated by a federal policy called Termination. The policy unilaterally ended rights and protections based on the treaties. The policy eroded the tribe’s economy, culture, and health/well-being.

At Minnesota Housing, we work closely with the 11 tribes in the state. Native American households in Minnesota are significantly less likely to be homeowners than white households and significantly more likely to experience homelessness. We work with each Tribe’s housing and human services’ teams to address the range of housing needs and find a way for our agency to help address these needs.

Three examples that I was directly involved in include changing legislation to allow a tribe or tribal collaborative to be eligible for homelessness prevention resources, getting the first tribal government to administer a state rental assistance program for individuals with a mental illness, and helping secure resources to build a new housing project for native homeless youth, where they will receive permanent housing and culturally relevant services. 

Impact of client-based projects
They were the most influential part of my experience at the La Follette School and are what most prepared me for my career. Thinking about everyone you work with as a client helps tailor your work and makes it more likely you’ll be effective and successful. Working with clients forces you to listen and really understand their perspective. This helps narrow possible solutions and rule out options. The ‘right’ answer or solution goes nowhere if it’s not answering the right question or meeting a client’s needs.

Most rewarding La Follette School experience
Speaking at graduation in front of such a distinguished group of people was an extreme honor. Working with Professor Dresang and the Menominee Indian Tribe was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that taught me a lot about myself, about working with tribal government, and about how federal policies can have devastating impacts on generations of families.

Most challenging La Follette School experience
The quantitative (statistics, economics, public budgeting, advanced statistical methods) courses were tough for me. They didn’t come easy to me and I had to work hard, learning a lot from others and spending way too many hours on problem sets. I don’t know if I would’ve made it without the great teaching assistants who broke everything down and were always willing to help.

Why would you recommend the La Follette School to a prospective student?
The rigorous classes and rich learning environment will give you a competitive edge when applying for jobs. If you’re coming straight from undergrad, it’ll give you the foundation for almost any public policy job, opening doors that you didn’t even know where out there. If you’re an early or mid-career professional, it’ll hone your skills and give you new perspectives that’ll shape your approach to your job and make you better at your job. Being in the city of Madison and being a part of UW–Madison also is ideal. It’s such a great atmosphere filled with hard-working and dedicated students and presents a lot of personal opportunities, no matter what you’re interested in.

Impactful faculty
I enjoyed and leaned a lot from all of the professors at the La Follette School, but Professor Dennis Dresang and Professor Don Moynihan were the most influential to me and really shaped my grad school experience. I personally connected with Prefessor Dresang and loved his classes. He taught me a lot about public administration and public management and was a great mentor, always available and willing to share. Besides learning through case studies from him in the classroom, I learned about professionalism and about how to create genuine relationships from watching him outside of the classroom. Professor Moynihan expanded my boundaries of thought and really pushed me to do my best. He knew when you weren’t doing your best work and pushed you to think and rethink about issues.

People would be surprised to know that …
Despite not enjoying running, I ran my first marathon last year. It was pretty brutal (I didn’t train as much as I should have), but it was amazing to finish, and I would absolutely recommend it to anybody looking for a new fitness challenge.