Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, July 23, 2012

Trembley finds La Follette training strengthens communication skills

Andrew Trembley

Andrew Trembley came to the La Follette School so he could communicate with people who aren't experts in probit models and regression analysis.

Halfway through the master's program in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Trembley found he still wasn't very good at communicating his ideas. "I first went back to school to get the statistics and economics that inform everything else," he says. "It made me a better critical thinker and researcher, but I still wasn't very good at communicating my ideas. I joined the La Follette School so that I could talk to people besides statisticians and economists."

Adding a Master of International Public Affairs degree to his résumé gave Trembley plenty of opportunity to practice his communication skills.

The school's small size means he had rewarding interactions with faculty inside and outside the classroom. "I've had small classes before, but La Follette's not just about that," he says. "Professors here are so genial, you can go in just to bounce ideas off of them. I've been to professors' houses for dinner and met with my advisor over coffee, and I don't think any of these interactions are uncommon."

The structure of the school's courses also is a benefit. "Most of the La Follette School's classes incorporate group projects with a client focus," he says. "Having to learn to work with clients and collaborators teaches you the soft skills you need to be successful in any job. It ensures that you don't just know how to write a report, but how to work effectively. In the final workshop, our group project was especially rewarding because our client, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, incorporated our findings and recommendations as we presented them during the semester."

Trembley and his classmates analyzed the gender sensitivity of current and potential indicators for evaluating countries that applied for funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. agency that dispenses development aid to qualifying countries. The team's liaison at MCC, 2008 alum Andria Hayes-Birchler, won recognition in December 2011 for her efforts to incorporate gender equity into decisions about whether the United States should give a country development aid.

That experience also gave Trembley the chance to see how policymakers think about development. He knows from his two years in the Peace Corps in Guatemala how complex economic development in developing countries can be. "To make a difference, it's important to listen to people on the ground and be dedicated," he says, "but if you want to be taken seriously by key decision-makers, you need a quantitative background that lets you read the latest research and understand when it's being applied or misapplied. To actually assess development projects and policy, you need a framework to operate in."

While on the Madison campus, Trembley worked on several development projects on financing education, cooperatives, community development finance and gender equity. "If I had a theme, it'd be working at the human scale of development -- how individual communities can improve their situation, instead of looking at the national or international level," he says.

He held a project assistantship with the University of Wisconsin System's Office of Policy Analysis and Research. He wrote the 2011 annual report on the system's minority and diversity precollege programs and how effective they were at attracting students to UW.

Having graduated in December, Trembley moved to Washington, D.C., to continue with the World Bank as a consultant. As a member of its education team, Trembley works on the Systems Assessment & Benchmarking for Education Results project. "I've been working on this enormous push to collect and catalog data on education systems in developing countries and how they attract, support, and motivate effective teachers," he says. "I generally think of myself as a quantitative person, but now I spend as much time crafting memoranda for field agents as I do crunching numbers. I never could have been able to do my job if I hadn't written and rewritten reports in the La Follette School."

The job is rewarding, Trembley says, in that the project ultimately will help countries systematically examine and strengthen the performance of their education systems to enhance learning for everyone.

"I can't work at a job I don't think is important," he says. "People who can will get to make a lot more money than me, but I'd rather halve my paycheck and spend my 9 to 5 doing something I thought would do some good in the world."