Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Students speak with Milwaukee city leaders, policymakers; tour river rehab project

Students speak with Milwaukee city leaders, policymakers; tour river rehab project

The La Follette School of Public Affairs’ first day-long career exploration program in Milwaukee provided graduate and undergraduate students with opportunities to learn from alumni and others working in government and public policy organizations.

Thirteen La Follette School students and nine undergraduate students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Letters & Science (L&S) participated in the experiential-learning opportunity March 31.

La Follette in Milwaukee – designed after similar events in Chicago, Madison, and Washington, DC – concluded with a networking reception. La Follette School Outreach Specialist This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. developed the program, which was supported by a grant from the Wisconsin Alumni Association and L&S’s Career Initiative (LSCI) and Career Services.

“We are extremely grateful to our alumni and friends who generously share their time and talents with our students,” said La Follette School Director Susan Webb Yackee. “These events are excellent opportunities not only for students, but for La Follette staff who provide career guidance and connections throughout the year.”

The students and several staff members began the day at Milwaukee City Hall at the invitation of Mark Nicolini, Milwaukee’s budget and management director. Nicolini received his master’s degree in public policy and administration from UW-Madison.

Students learned from Nicolini and a panel of high-level city policymakers, who highlighted interesting aspects of their careers and answered questions from students and staff. Panelists were:

  • Erick Shambarger (MPA ’02), director of environmental sustainability
  • Eric Pearson (MPA ’94), budget and management analyst
  • Joe’Mar Hooper, Milwaukee Public Schools’ director of business, community, and family partnerships
  • Monique Lofton, budget and management analyst
  • Sharon Robinson, director of administration for the city of Milwaukee

"It was particularly interesting to hear from a diverse panel of budget and management experts at the city of Milwaukee Budget Office,” said Demetri Vincze, a second-year master of public affairs student. “The session was packed with valuable insights into the attributes and skills public servants need to be impactful in their work and successful in their careers."

Four Milwaukee public policy research leaders then joined the students for lunch and conversation. Rob Henken, president of the Public Policy Forum, Mike Nichols, president of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, Joe Yeado of the Public Policy Forum, and Kathleen Pritchard, who received her master’s degree in public administration from UW-Madison, participated.

Christine Durkin (MPA ’11), a management and budget analyst for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), coordinated an afternoon tour and discussion of the Kinnickinnic River Rehabilitation and Neighborhood Plan. The MMSD created the project to integrate the river into the community in a positive and meaningful way. With help from the Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers (SSCHC) and other partners, the long-neglected natural and built environment on Milwaukee’s near south side is undergoing a major transformation.

Durkin was joined by colleagues Patrick Elliot, Kinnickinnic River Project manager; Moranda Medina, SSCHC’s community engagement specialist; and Tomas Schlenker of the SSCHC. Steve Jacquart, MMSD invergovernmental coordinator, welcomed the group.

“It was a privilege to see the project from an insider’s point of view and learn about the collaboration among the City of Milwaukee, community leaders, and the Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers,” said Richelle Andrae, a first-year MPA student. “As a Milwaukee native, it was surprising and exciting to learn about the wide variety of policy opportunities in the area that I previously hadn’t been exposed to.”

The final career development session of the day was a heartfelt panel discussion with three staff members from the Public Policy Institute (PPI):

  • Kari Lerch, deputy director
  • Melissa McGaughey, grants and communications manager
  • Jeffery Roman, benchmark coordinator for minority male achievement

PPI is part of Community Advocates – one of the largest human services nonprofit organizations in Wisconsin. PPI works to promote and implement evidence-based policies that will prevent and reduce poverty and improve the quality of life for individuals and families in Milwaukee and throughout the state.

The Milwaukee area is home to more than 150 La Follette School alumni and friends, including several members of the School’s Board of Visitors. Board member Michael Youngman (MA ’82) kicked off the after-work reception with a welcome and brief remarks about his policy career.

“It was truly inspiring to re-connect with former students doing such excellent work in the field,” said La Follette School Associate Director Hilary Shager (MPA ’05). “I look forward to following up with them on potential classroom projects, internships, and employment opportunities.”

In addition, Shager said, the event allowed the La Follette School to deepen its collaboration with L&S’s Career Initiative and Career Services Office. Marie Koko, L&S government career specialist, said the undergraduate students were primarily seniors studying political science, economics and other social sciences – many hoping to work in government or obtain degrees in policy or law in the future.

“In a follow-up survey, the students appreciated the breadth of experience brought by the panelists,” said Koko. “They learned about the real-world implications of establishing quality policies early in the process to avoid problems down the road.”