Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Schumann adds quantitative skills to planning experience

Emma Schumann Emma Schumann

The generalist in Emma Schumann drew her to the La Follette School and its Master of Public Affairs degree, as did advice from a couple of alumni and a faculty members.

"I have typically been a generalist in school, and I appreciate that the MPA is applicable to a variety of topics and issues that interest me," says Schumann, a first-year student who works as an assistant planner for Urban Assets, a Madison planning and development firm. "I am pursuing a public affairs degree because it is applicable to a range of topics and issues, but provides the skills needed to conduct narrow, detailed analyses. I have learned a lot from working in urban planning, but realized I could only get so far without an advanced degree. I wanted to pursue a degree focused on skills applicable to a range of topics and sectors."

In considering a graduate program, Schumann talked with some alumni and with La Follette School professor Maria Cancian, whom the president has nominated to become assistant secretary for children and families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Professor Cancian emphasized the importance of applying quantitative skills to the development and analysis of social policy," Schumann says. "I anticipate using the quantitative skills I am gaining at La Follette most often when interpreting studies and reports with a high level of quantitative analysis."

The school's emphasis on quantitative skills and reputation of preparing students well for public service careers made the program attractive, adds Schumann, who also spoke with Caroline McCormack, who completed the university's double degrees in public affairs and in urban and regional planning in 2014. "Caroline's insight was especially helpful since we both have a background in planning," Schumann says. "She emphasized the quantitative and analytical skills gained in La Follette, which influenced my choice to pursue the MPA. I have also known 2008 alum Liz Drilias for several years. Her solid career path and positive experience at La Follette influenced me to apply to the program."

For Urban Assets, Schumann has worked with public, private and nonprofit clients on facility development, neighborhood planning and public engagement. "I have developed planning studies and project reports for private, nonprofit, and government clients," says Schumann, who graduated in 2012 from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor of science in urban studies. "I have designed and implemented community surveys, analyzing and summarizing their results. I gather, analyze and summarize demographic data, and conduct property due diligence, including researching local ordinances, site and neighborhood history, and project funding sources. Other tasks include developing and distributing requests for proposals for subcontractors, coordinating interviews, focus groups and public meetings, and completing grant applications."

Urban planning has been a good fit for Schumann, as the field has furthered her "generalist" academic and career path. "In my job, I have worked on components of a transportation plan, a neighborhood plan, a grocery store feasibility study and the Milwaukee County Consolidated Plan," she says. "Additionally, I have assisted in the predevelopment process and development of facilities for a day care, a domestic violence shelter, a music venue and supportive housing for homeless adults."

At La Follette, Schumann has been focusing on policy analysis in her course work, and she anticipates taking more courses with a social policy focus.

"I have taken courses taught by a mix of renowned researchers and industry professionals with long, successful careers," Schumann says. "Learning from researchers with a very specific and high-level skillset and from professionals with years of real-world experience has provided me an idea of the range of topics and fields to which an MPA degree is applicable."

The varied backgrounds and interests of her classmates also appeal to Schumann's generalist nature. "I really appreciate being in smaller classes with people who have academic and professional backgrounds in subjects I know little about, such as neuroscience or public health," she adds. "I have learned a lot and have expanded my interests from listening to and working with them."