Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, November 17, 2014

Serakos works at nexus of community engagement, scholarship

Maria Serakos Maria Serakos

Serakos to speak on Affordable Care Act

First-year student Maria Serakos and Professor Barbara Wolfe will speak on "The Affordable Care Act: One Year Later" in a noon seminar on Tuesday, November 25, in the La Follette School conference room.

Wolfe and Serakos will talk about what has been learned about the ACA in terms of increasing coverage, access to health care, health and broader effects such as labor market changes. They will review lessons of the 2010 health coverage expansion to young adults and the 2014 expansions. They will discuss datasets available to study the effects in the longer term.

Because Maria Serakos wants her research to make a difference in public policy, she is pursuing a Master of Public Affairs degree at the La Follette School before she goes on to a Ph.D. program.

"My interests in social policy, nonprofit service, and academic research led me to La Follette," the first-year student says. "I hope to deepen my policy analysis skills and knowledge of the public and nonprofit sectors before pursuing a doctorate."

Serakos graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2012 with a degree in mathematics. She spent a year teaching in a high school in Yakima, Washington, through Lasallian Volunteers, then headed to Washington, D.C., to work as a research assistant at the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center.

Through her work and undergraduate studies, Serakos made community engagement a priority. "My career goals to become a public policy scholar are rooted in an experience I had at Notre Dame through the Center for Social Concerns," she says. "The summer before my senior year, I interned at the Jeremiah Program in Minneapolis, a nonprofit organization providing affordable housing, education and employment support, and life skills training for young single mothers. There I came to appreciate the concept and implications of generational poverty, which prompted me to write my senior thesis on how welfare reform affected the postsecondary degree attainment of young women."

That connection between community involvement and her thesis helped Serakos focus her career goals. "Perhaps the biggest takeaway from my experience with the Jeremiah Program and my time at the CSC was witnessing how community engagement and scholarship can go hand in hand," Serakos says. "My service and volunteer experiences have motivated me to pursue policy research, showing me that behind broad policy structures and datasets are the lives and stories of individual people."

At the Urban Institute, Serakos evaluated a gang reduction and youth development program, developed federal databases on criminal case processing and worked with forensic laboratory data. "I came to realize that I did not have the sort of policy 'grounding' that I wanted in approaching the issues of interest to me," Serakos says. "Furthermore, my time at Urban taught me the importance of effectively communicating results and findings with policymakers and practitioners. If my ultimate goal is to make some sort of difference in promoting sound policies, I need to know how the policy world operates in order to produce and disseminate quality research."

She chose the La Follette School for its strong emphasis on social policy and connections to the Institute for Research on Poverty. Being in the Upper Midwest — Serakos is from Minnesota — is important to her because wants to study policies pertinent to her local community.

Serakos is working as a project assistant with La Follette School professor Jason Fletcher and Barbara Wolfe. "We are surveying the research to date on the Affordable Care Act with respect to coverage, access, health, and labor market outcomes and assessing the datasets and resources used in the research," she says. "This scan is soon to be complete and may lead to a research project of our own in response to a gap in the research."

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Serakos also received a scholarship from funds donated by a friend of the La Follette School. "The support I am receiving motivates me to make the most of my time here in terms of both contributing to the La Follette community and preparing myself for my future work and research,"says Serakos, who also received a La Follette School fellowship.

Serakos is making the most of university's resources. "I have enjoyed attending a variety of seminars and talks on campus, through La Follette, IRP, and the Center for Demography and Ecology, which has helped me think about the various ways to approach policy issues," she says.

The La Follette School's interdisciplinary approach is helping Serakos determine the direction her Ph.D. studies might take — public policy, economics, sociology, demography and social policy all intrigue her. "The La Follette School's curriculum gives you the opportunity to study policy from a variety of perspectives," says Serakos.

Her quantitative background as an undergraduate meant she was able to waive the core quantitative courses at La Follette and pursue a sequence through the statistics department. "This speaks to the flexibility of the school's curriculum," she notes. "The faculty and advising staff were all very helpful in helping me choose a set of courses that aligns with my career goals and helps me develop my quantitative skills."

She is also taking Professor David Weimer's cost-benefit analysis course this fall. "The course is a true example of integrated learning; in addition to learning the economic concepts and theory behind CBA, we get to apply our skills to performing a CBA for an actual client," Serakos says. "This experience has already proven to be incredibly rewarding for me, as it puts me at the intersection of community engagement, policy analysis, and academic research, allowing me to witness how research can inform public policy."

Last modified on Friday, April 10, 2015