Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, August 12, 2013

Trifone finds public affairs synthesizes nonprofit, leadership experience


After completing his Master of Public Affairs degree in 2014, Dan Trifone became program coordinator for Portland State University's Center for Public Service.

Two men

Dan Trifone, right, helped coordinate Disability Advocacy Day, which brought 400 people with disabilities from throughout Wisconsin to the Capitol to talk with their legislators.

After a year as a La Follette School student, Dan Trifone is gaining a better sense of all the options he has for a career in nonprofit management.

With a background in conservation, housing, children's programing and work with felons, Trifone finds that a Master of Public Affairs degree is a good fit. "I have done a range of work from national service to case management," Trifone says. "La Follette was a natural progression from working one on one with clients to nonprofit management with more of a policy focus."

While a student at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where he graduated in 2010, Trifone worked as a case manager for Word of Hope Ministries. He helped formerly incarcerated individuals develop their résumés as part of a program that helped them develop "soft skills" to use when applying and interviewing for jobs.

"Most of the men had never seen a résumé, much less had one of their own," says Trifone, who started his undergraduate work at UW–Marathon County. "I helped them identify skills and strengths they could offer employers. Many of the skills they acquired in jail and were afraid to list. By the time I left, I could help someone put together a résumé with 10 years of experience as a chef and custodian. At first glance an employer might not realize the man had been in jail."

To his own résumé, Trifone has added advocacy for people with disabilities. He joined the staff of the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities as a program and policy analyst in January. He uses his La Follette School training every day. "I do policy research, write policy memos and, occasionally, director advocacy work talking to legislators," he says.

The public management course Trifone took from professor Donald Moynihan proved most helpful, Trifone says. Indeed, the assignments in the fall course provided his writing samples submitted as part of his job application. "I hadn't done any writing like what we did in class," he says, "and my first day on the job they had me write a policy memo about Family Care, a state program to provide long-term care to people with disabilities and older adults. Those analytical writing skills, especially writing policy memos and briefs, really helped me get the position."

Trifone is especially proud of the work he did to organize Disability Advocacy Day, which brought 400 people with disabilities from throughout Wisconsin to the Capitol to talk with their legislators about issues such as paratransit funding, private-school vouchers for children with disabilities and expansion of Family Care to northeast Wisconsin.

"People really felt heard because they were heard," says Trifone, who tapped La Follette School students to volunteer to help people navigate the Capitol. "All but two representatives and all the senators were on hand to talk with their constituents."

Prior to enrolling at La Follette, Trifone worked as a crew leader for the Utah Conservation Corps organizing environmental restoration projects. That was his third stint with AmeriCorps Vista. He also facilitated landlord compacts and resolved tenant-landlord issues in Milwaukee. In Louisiana he coordinated the creation of a spring break camp for 150 children, designed an after-school program for elementary students and coordinated volunteers.

In Madison, Trifone pursued his environmental interests through an internship with a member of the Wisconsin Assembly who worked on adding environmental protect to a Wisconsin mining bill.

Trifone says his time at La Follette is helping him synthesize his experiences. "I am attracted to the policy aspects of civil rights issues and helping people whose rights are generally paved over," he says. "My focus is really the underserved of the underserved — especially felons, who have almost no services in the community to help them adjust to life after prison."

Although he is concentrating on nonprofit management, Trifone appreciates his training in policy analysis. "Understanding the inner workings of policy analysis will give you a distinct advantage."

The La Follette program has helped Trifone focus, he says. "My first semester was very difficult as my father passed away. I had to really work to bring my grades back up. In the spring semester I immersed myself in school and work, and I have really seen a lot of success in a short period of time through perseverance that was anchored in my drive to succeed in this program."

"Throughout my life and career, public service has always been a fundamental motivator in what path I took," he adds. "I joined AmeriCorps seven years after Hurricane Katrina. National service in particular is incredibly important to me. My mother was a professor at UW–Stevens Point, and she really instilled in me the importance of service and serving the community."

Last modified on Wednesday, November 19, 2014