Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, May 20, 2013

Wilson-Tepeli values good management, planning

John Wilson-Tepeli


After completing his master's degrees, John Wilson-Tepeli joined the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau as a fiscal analyst.

A talented and creative manager first got John Wilson-Tepeli thinking about the value of public affairs training.

After graduating in 2007 from Whitman College in Washington state, Wilson-Tepeli worked for court interpreter services with the Oregon Judicial Department.

"Our program manager always looking for efficiencies and ways to improve services," Wilson-Tepeli says. "This person, who was also an MPA, had a deep respect for public service and the courts. Her leadership had a positive impact on morale, and even when we were transitioning into a more difficult budgetary climate, she looked for efficiencies and creative ways to retain services. It was a great chance for me to observe a talented manager in action—and it showed me the positive impact that training in public affairs can have on management practices and leadership."

Wilson-Tepeli then moved to Madison and took a position with the facilities group at the university's School of Medicine and Public Health. "I managed our group's budgets, human resources and communications—which was a wonderful experience, during which I received a lot of mentoring," he says. "However, I also realized that I needed to develop a more technical skill-set that would enable me to grow and advance professionally."

The realization led him to the La Follette School and the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and their double-degree program, which, Wilson-Tepeli says, he took notice of because 2012 alum Dan Kleinmaier's recommendation. "He really promoted the program and had a lot of positive things to say about getting a degree in both fields," says Wilson-Tepeli, who has completed his first year with URPL and started at La Follette in fall 2012.

"In some respects, the Master of Public Affairs program has a much broader focus than the URPL degree, but this perspective helps contextualize a lot of the work that planners do," Wilson-Tepeli says.

"Planning and public affairs are inextricably linked," he adds. "Both programs emphasize many of the same analytical skills—and the knowledge base I have from my first year in URPL has been very helpful in transitioning into the public affairs portion of the double degree. I also appreciate how the La Follette curriculum has helped me reflect on some of my earlier coursework and deepened my understanding of the subject matter, particularly with respect to microeconomic planning issues and the role of government."

Wilson-Tepeli occasionally uses some of his quantitative skills to help with reports and analyses he prepares as part of his job as a graduate assistant with the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences' Office of the Dean and Director. "I do everything from answering phones to helping with writing reports," he says. "It is a great opportunity to learn about higher education administration."

Wilson-Tepeli enjoys the diversity of students at La Follette. "Students and professors at La Follette have an incredible energy and dedication to their interests," he says. "It is a privilege to work with and get to know so many people who have experience and expertise from a wide swath of life. Classes at La Follette demand your attention while you are in them—and then for hours afterward while you digest what you learn. Students often show up an hour early for class, just for the extra time to discuss the material with peers. It is a great environment."

At La Follette, Wilson-Tepeli is focusing on public and nonprofit management and administration, while at URPL his emphasis is economic development planning. "I am interested in affordable housing and other aspects of community economic development as well," he says. "Eventually I would like to work for a state or federal agency in a management role."

"Our society faces a lot of seemingly intractable policy and social problems; and I think for people who are interested in working in public service, this fact can be discouraging," Wilson-Tepeli says. "I chose La Follette because the curriculum helps students develop the quantitative and analytic tools to examine and contextualize these problems—which provides the basis for making more informed, and hopefully better, policy and management decisions."

Last modified on Thursday, November 13, 2014