Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Stephanie Marburger, MPA/MPH

Stephanie Marburger, MPA/MPH

Cleveland, Ohio

Undergraduate education
Bachelor’s in psychology and creative writing, Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin, 2012

Expected graduation date
May 2018


Why an MPA/MPH?
When I was an undergraduate student, I chose to get a degree in psychology because I wanted to help others. My psychology education was great, and I learned a lot about the unmet needs of people seeking mental wellness in the United States.

A few years after receiving my bachelor’s degree, I went to work with the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities. This was a big influence on my ultimate choice to go to grad school and pursue master’s degrees in both public affairs and public health. I learned a lot about advocacy and public policy.

It really lit the spark that started when I was studying psychology – that passion to help people and the ambition to be good at it. I wanted the strength of an education that brought together knowledge from the realms of policy maneuvering and health science.

Why the La Follette School?
The La Follette School is one of the few public affairs programs that offers a dual or joint master’s degree with public affairs and public health. That drew me right away. While I had originally planned for grad school to be an opportunity to depart from Wisconsin and try life somewhere new, La Follette’s smaller class sizes, welcoming environment, and reputation convinced me otherwise.

Project assistantship
As the project assistant for the Evidence-Based Health Policy Project at UW–Madison, I assist with events that bring information about research, resources, and evidence-based practices to public health professionals, legislators, and other audiences. I also do some background poking around and summarizing on various topics for the State Legislative Council so that the staff can better answer questions they get from legislators on various laws and policies.

What I love about this job is that I get to learn about and work on all kinds of different pieces of health policy. I’ve helped with projects on preventing falls in seniors, using the What Works for Health website, social determinants of health, and scope-of-practice laws for nurses. I am always learning something new, and better: I’m helping legislators gather more information so that they can make effective policy.

What experiences and skills helped you get the PAship/internship?
Certainly being an MPA/MPH helped. The Evidence-Based Health Policy Project is a blend of the worlds of policy and health, so applying for the position with two years of education in both of those fields was definitely an asset.

Another asset was committing to being professionally nonpartisan. Nonpartisanship is what EBHPP is about, and this is emphasized throughout the interview process. It isn’t a secret that our society is increasingly polarized. I think among Millennial Madisonians like myself, we’re not instinctively drawn to or aware of the importance of nonpartisan careers.

I am a very opinionated person, and many friends express astonishment and even disapproval that I have opted into a nonpartisan position. But nonpartisanship is essential to communicating impartial information to policymakers. It is essential to a functioning democracy. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have opinions—but when I put on my professional cap, they matter less than providing nonpartisan service to the public.

Some may find it surprising that my creative writing major was a part of the reason I got the position. While some may imagine a creative writing education as frivolous, it brings with it valuable skills with broad applications. Beloit College has one of the best creative writing programs in the country, and that program provided me with excellent communication skills.

Most challenging experience at the La Follette School
Absolutely, definitely, statistics and economics. Everyone will tell you that the first semester at La Follette is a bit of a gauntlet, and they aren’t kidding. But it’s extremely important. Policy is increasingly driven by data. As aspiring policy professionals, it’s our responsibility to have a good grasp of these concepts.

How has the La Follette School changed the way you think about public policy?
It cracked open the complexities of politics and the public sector. People talk about politics more than ever before on social media and in casual conversation. But talking about them isn’t the same as having an in-depth education in them. Economic concepts, public management techniques and follies, the streams of how an idea becomes a policy – this is big, complex stuff that determines so much of how the public sector functions.

Volunteer activities
I volunteer with the McBurney Disability Resource Center Speakers Bureau, where UW–Madison students with disabilities discuss our experiences with various on-campus groups.

People would be surprised if they knew that ...
I love costumes and performing. In college, I played the Tim Curry role in our campus Rocky Horror Show. In the past, I’ve LARPed in costume with liquid latex makeup. This summer, I went to GenCon in Indiana and cosplayed, even entering a cosplay contest. This past fall, I did some standup open mics. It’s very fun and a great creative outlet when I need a break from policy and research.