William Schmitt – Alumni in the Spotlight

Portrait of William SchmittWilliam Schmitt (MIPA ’05) is the executive director of Rooted & Rising – Washington Park, a social service agency founded by the United Methodist Church in 1962 that is dedicated to serving communities in Milwaukee’s Washington Park area. In his role, Schmitt and his colleagues focus on ensuring citizens’ access to services and resources and supporting families in their long-term goals and aspirations. “Because this work is often complicated by deep structural impediments and a history of discrimination and disinvestment in Washington Park and other predominantly African American northside neighborhoods in Milwaukee,” Schmitt says, “it requires collaboration with a wide array of partners to attract and increase the level of financial resources and investments flowing to the agency and the neighborhood more broadly.”

While studying at the La Follette School, Schmitt knew that he wanted to work overseas in the international humanitarian relief and development field and sought coursework that matched these interests. “Being challenged and learning how to think analytically was a skill that I strengthened considerably during my time at La Follette and have put to practical use pretty much on a daily basis throughout my career,” notes Schmitt. “The La Follette faculty were top notch, clear experts in their respective fields and wonderful teachers.”

After earning his graduate degree from the La Follette School, Schmitt spent years working around the world with Catholic Relief Services at postings including Afghanistan, Turkey/Syria, West Darfur in Sudan, and Indonesia. Fourteen years later, Schmitt returned to his hometown of Milwaukee to continue his work with Rooted & Rising.

“After having had the good fortune of working and traveling all over the world and across the country, I am more convinced than ever that despite all of our differences, that which binds us together and that we share in common is so much greater,” Schmitt says. For Schmitt, the challenge is to recognize and celebrate those common bonds and to elevate the needs and aspirations of others above our own selfish interests. “That said, the work itself needs to always begin from a place of genuine humility, cultural competency and awareness, and a demonstrated commitment to the work and mission.” One of the things Schmitt is most grateful for in his work is the ability to work collaboratively, developing relationships with passionate colleagues from across the world dedicated to helping others in need.

He advises public policy students to aim to distinguish themselves through determination and work ethic. “Embrace the challenges of your academic program and know that it is helping you build the foundation for future success, impact, and happiness,” Schmitt says.

Alumni in the Spotlight

To celebrate La Follette’s 40th anniversary, each month in 2024 we are highlighting alumni who influence policymaking at the highest levels in government, nonprofit, and private-sector organizations across the country and abroad.


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