Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Schindler applies workshop experience to job with audit bureau

Jake Schindler and his family.

Family life

A bonus of going back to graduate school for Jake Schindler was that he got more time to spend with his twin babies than he otherwise might have working full time in a small real estate brokerage office.

He and his wife, Amy, a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, had a boy and a girl in December 2007, nine months before he started at La Follette.

"It was stressful trying to find balance, but at the same time the flexibility of grad school allowed me to spend more time with my kids than I would have otherwise," Schindler says. "We could not have done it without having someone helping us out, given both of our schedules. I do recommend looking for child care early on. In retrospect, I think it is much harder to find balance after grad school."

When Jake Schindler's partner at the small real estate brokerage firm mentioned his retirement plans, Schindler knew the time had come to think about a career change. He had spent several years in personal finance and then in the real estate and mortgage business since graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 2001.

"I had been thinking about public service," Schindler says. "I wanted to serve Wisconsin in some capacity, but I was uncertain how."

He turned to the La Follette School and earned a master's degree in public affairs in May 2010. Shortly afterward he joined the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau. As a legislative analyst, Schindler took on two projects, one that evaluated the quality of asphalt roads in Wisconsin with an emphasis on the warranty program for some of the highways. The other project was an audit of Family Care, one of Wisconsin's long-term care service systems that help older adults or people with developmental or physical disabilities with daily living and health care.

Both projects proved intriguing, although Schindler initially wondered about asphalt study. "But once I was immersed in the work, I found that I was curious to learn more," he says. "The policy implications are also part of what makes the project interesting."

Much of what Schindler does is retrieving and cleaning data — tracking down the information he needs from agencies and individuals and then organizing it for analysis. The work is essentially program evaluation, he says. "We look at state programs and their associated agencies with an eye toward discovering how services are being delivered and how the program is being managed by the agency. We look at statutes and administrative code to see if a program conforms on these levels."

The analysts also look at how a program works and search for ways to improve it, Schindler adds. "The methods we regularly use on the job include background research, personal interviews, data collection and analysis, and file reviews."

For the Family Care audit, Schindler was already familiar with aspects of the state Department of Health Services program due to the public affairs workshop he took at the La Follette School. The report compared Family Care to another DHS program, IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct).

The experience helped develop his skills in writing and teamwork. "We had to convey complex, program-specific information in a way that made sense to someone who was not a DHS insider," Schindler says. "Teamwork came into play as we shared and divided tasks on a large project and decided what we could accomplish versus what we wanted to accomplish and how that would answer our core questions. Above all, we practiced operating in a world of incomplete or imperfect information, given the challenge that IRIS was a new and growing program."

The Family Care audit is more involved than the asphalt study, with lots of data to process and field work reviews of Family Care services around the state. "This is a complex project involving a large amount of data, which has been my focus," Schindler says. "I am looking at expenditure data for Family Care services over time and then examining trends. I am analyzing the data in many ways to try to understand the program in relationship to participant groups, geographic areas, managed care organizations and services delivered. In a way we are trying to see the big picture by looking at thousands (even millions) of transaction records at the individual level."

Schindler gained experience with large datasets as part of his fellowship and project assistantship with professor Geoffrey Wallace through which he worked with data from the National Institute on Aging's Health and Retirement Study.

The La Follette School's emphasis on writing and teamwork also has been beneficial at the Audit Bureau. "We work on teams to compile reports, some of which are shorter letter reports, while others are extensive reviews," Schindler says.

He adds that his La Follette courses on introductory and advanced methods for public policy analysis helped him become more comfortable with data analysis. "The required courses give you the chance to develop the analytical mindset that will help you succeed in any number of career paths," Schindler says.

"The freedom to build your degree program also means that you are not constrained by too many courses that may not be applicable to your specific interests," Schindler adds. "Through La Follette I discovered the potential benefits of being more of a generalist and getting the chance to learn about numerous topics. This is definitely the case at the LAB — each program evaluation will take me into new territory."

Students present 9 workshop reports to local, state, international clients, May 13, 2010, La Follette School News