Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Sara Nowakowski, MPA

Sara Nowakowski, bottom center, served in the Peace Corps in Mozambique before pursuing her master's degree at the La Follette School of Public Affairs. Sara Nowakowski, bottom center, served in the Peace Corps in Mozambique before pursuing her master's degree at the La Follette School of Public Affairs.

Degree program

Expected graduation

Orange, California

Girl Scout Gold Award, Venice Chamber of Commerce Wave Award, La Follette Fellowship

Why the La Follette School?
UW-Madison is universally known as a strong, reputable institution, and La Follette ranks among the top public affairs programs. Other schools had reputable programs, but I ultimately chose La Follette because of its smaller cohort size and the individual attention and assistance the faculty and administration would provide.

I was also drawn to the flexibility in the course work with the ability to complete most core classes in the first year and have a variety of elective options to pursue the second year. I was originally leaning toward only public administration programs, but after learning more about the La Follette School’s balance of policy and administration, along with the flexibility to shape my course load in pursuit of my own interests, La Follette was the right choice for me.

Professional experience
The summer between my first and second years, I have a full-time, paid job at Common Wealth in Madison. Common Wealth is a nonprofit organization that offers affordable housing, youth and adult job support and training, and business incubation. I am a Youth Employment Specialist for Common Wealth’s Youth-Business Mentoring Program – job-training and mentorship program for students who face barriers to finding employment.

I network with local businesses about partnering with our program, and I helped run a training in Sun Prairie for a group of 15 students – I am mentoring 10 of them. Drawing from my experiences in youth development and my graduate school education, I also have contributed to the review of the program’s curriculum, management, and evaluation.

Which experiences and skills helped you get the position?
When hired, my supervisor told me I was chosen because she believed I was capable of jumping in to the work right away. On my first day, I truly did jump right in, going to Sun Prairie High School to recruit students for our summer training session. A large portion of my comfort and ability to jump right in comes from my vast experience in youth work and my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mozambique. I also expressed a desire to take on additional projects related to program and organizational development.

Project assistantship
I am very excited and honored to be working with Professor Donald Moynihan during my second year. I am very interested in management and performance evaluation, and I greatly enjoyed his classes last year.

Volunteer activities

  • Math tutor at Madison East High School through Achievement Connections
  • Volunteered/interned at the United Way of Dane County, in Community Impact with the director of academic success
  • Volunteered/interned at the Lussier Community Education Center, assisting with administrative development, the Buffet Scholar program, and annual Gallery Night event.

Career goals
I am seeking a career in which I can pursue my passion of working to expand opportunities available to underserved youths, particularly in the field of education. I believe access to education can be one of the best tools to expand an individual's opportunities and increase prospects for a more successful, meaningful life.

How have your La Follette School courses and/or experiences set you on the path to meeting your career goals?
Though interested more in the nonprofit sector than the public sector, I thought it was important to learn about policy making because nonprofit organizations are very dependent on government entities, something I have definitely been exposed to in my La Follette courses.

Also, I love how the courses give us the opportunity to learn about topics we are most interested in. For example, involving my interest in education, I analyzed the Madison Metropolitan School District’s implementation of a new behavior policy in a public management course, researched social-emotional learning standards in an education policy course, researched the evolution of the school voucher system in Wisconsin in a policy-making process course, and analyzed federal policy for increasing low-income student retention and achievement in post-secondary education in a policy analysis course.

The management courses I have taken clearly translate to the nonprofit sector, and the quantitative and other “hard skills” I am learning at La Follette are setting me on the path toward a career in nonprofit management.

What advice would you give to prospective La Follette School students?
Embrace group papers! When a group member is passionate about a particular paper/research project topic, be open to it and take it as an opportunity to learn about something you may have never considered! Always stay open-minded to what’s presented to you and take the time to learn about your fellow Bobs’ passions and interests. It is so fun to see how everyone’s interests grow and evolve.

Anything else?
I could write pages about my Peace Corps experience in Mozambique!