Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, April 27, 2017

Students apply knowledge, skills as project assistants on and off campus

Soong Wong Kit
"After having been in school for my whole life and having a good grade be the result of my toil, finally seeing it go into something useful and helpful has been really gratifying.” 

- Soong Kit Wong

La Follette School students have numerous opportunities to apply their coursework as project assistants (PAs) on and off campus. Employers gain highly skilled employees, and students use their training in real-world work environments.

Students also receive tuition remission, a stipend, and benefits. For some, such as Stephanie (Rubin) Murray, their PAship is part of a funding package.

“The PAship became the tipping point for choosing the La Follette School, because no other program offered anything like that in terms of financial help,” said Stephanie (Rubin) Murray, a first-year student in the Master of Public Affairs (MPA) program who works with Education Analytics, a Madison-based nonprofit organization.

Several students work with La Follette faculty members for their PAship. For example, La Follette fellow Soong Kit Wong works with Associate Professor Mark Copelovitch. Wong has worked on several projects, including Copelovitch’s research into demonetization in India. He has written summaries of numerous articles and has collected, cleaned, and coded data.

“My work has been rewarding and enjoyable,” he said. “It is fulfilling to see the work I do go into actual research. After having been in school for my whole life and having a good grade be the result of my toil, finally seeing it go into something useful and helpful has been really gratifying.”

Other students, such as Kirsten Jacobson and Sarah Dalgleish, sought out other UW–Madison PAships after learning about numerous opportunities from La Follette School staff. Both are students in the Master of International Public Affairs (MIPA) program and acquired positions in the Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS). 

“Most recently, I was able to suggest a series of surveys to assess students’ interests and needs for our program,” Jacobson said about her work with the African Studies Program. “I will also be crafting evaluations for this summer’s Young African Leadership Institute through the State Department, combining my international, education, and evaluation interests and La Follette training.”

Dalgleish, a first-year student, has used her computer and writing skills to help create and launch a new website for the Center for European Studies (CES), where she works as a project assistant. She also works on grant proposals, curriculum development, event planning, and other smaller projects.

Associate Director Hilary Shager (MPA ’05, PhD ’12) said La Follette School students are highly sought after, and staff work diligently to connect students with employers on and off campus.

Project assistantships with other campus units or with organizations outside the university are an exciting way for our students to use their training to tackle tough policy issues,” she said. “The positions provide beneficial partnerships between the university and the community.”

Isabelle Selep, a first-year MPA student, secured a position in UW–Madison’s Budget Office. “The most rewarding part of my PAship is feeling like a part of the team rather than working for someone on the team,” she said. “Because I came straight from undergrad, I do not have much work experience in positions where I am seen as more than student help. It has given me a lot of confidence in my work style and ethic.”

Selep experiences a wide variety of projects and is learning about the state-budget process. “I was not a political science major and had very little knowledge in that area, so it was interesting to see what I was learning on the job and in class play out,” said Selep, who received her bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies from UW–Madison in 2016.

Second-year MPA student Kelsey Mueller secured a PAship with WPS Health Solutions in Madison. Mueller, whose bachelor’s degree is in psychology and social justice from UW–Oshkosh, was a PA for the Evidence-Based Health Policy Project (EBHPP) on campus during her first year at La Follette.

“At WPS, I’ve seen a different side of health care policy,” said Mueller, who works in the Government Relations Department at WPS, a not-for-profit health insurer that contracts with the federal government to provide Medicare Part A and Part B benefits, as well as TRICARE and Veterans Administration programs.
As the current PA for the EBHPP, Richelle Andre organizes briefings at the State Capitol for legislators and other policy makers and conducts research and interviews with program administrators and stakeholders to provide new perspectives on legislators’ particular areas of interest.

“I have especially enjoyed learning more about the legislative process, feeling that I now understand the challenges elected officials face in evaluating decisions every day,” said Andre.

Other agencies, nonprofit organizations, and businesses that have employed La Follette School PAs to assist in statistical analysis, research, and cost‐benefit studies include the Wisconsin Legislative Council, UW System Administration, UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and Dane County.