John O’Malley, MIPA

John O'Malley stands in front of a leafy green background wearing a suit.


Cedarburg, WI

Undergraduate education

Senior in accelerated program, pursuing bachelor of arts in political science and international studies, certificate in Middle East studies, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Professional/research interests

U.S.-Iran relations, impact of economic sanctions, theocracies


Dean’s List

Expected graduation date

May 2022

Why an MIPA?

I wanted to pursue a MIPA degree because of my educational exploration of the Middle East as a region and my personal interest with the governing doctrines of theocratic states. My father served in Afghanistan when I was in elementary school, and I wanted to learn more about where he was stationed and why he was there, which drove much of my interest in politics and foreign policy. Today, I am most fascinated by Iran and its history with the U.S. as both a prior ally under the Shah’s rule, and as a geopolitical opponent during the reign of the Ayatollahs.

Why the La Follette School?

I was largely drawn to the La Follette School because of the accelerated program’s structure. I understand that working in policy implementation typically demands a graduate degree of some kind, and I was genuinely concerned about the cost of attaining one after finishing my bachelor’s. At La Follette, I am able to collect graduate credits during my undergraduate degree and complete my master’s over the course of one full year of study. It is an incredibly cost-effective option for anyone looking to break into the policy space who already attends UW–Madison, and I highly encourage it. Outside of the financial benefits, I am also attracted to the quantitative focus of the program. There are so many options available for undergraduates like me who did not major in quantitative fields to expand their skillset. Microeconomics, macroeconomics, statistics, and cost-benefit analysis courses provide students with a solid framework for either the professional work environment or future studies. Being in a capital city also makes the process for attaining state internships much easier, as you will have priority for positions throughout a multitude of agencies.

Career goals?

I want to work in DC in the field of foreign policy, preferably for the federal government. In order to achieve this goal, I have taken five semesters of Farsi language study before transitioning to self-study once classes went fully online. I have wanted to re-enroll in additional upper-level language coursework, but my tight schedule has made that investment difficult. To counter a lack of formal language study, I have also taken up R programming which is useful for data analysis.

How has the La Follette School set you on the path to meeting your career goals?

My status as an accelerated student has allowed me to apply for numerous internships that I otherwise would have never had access to. In my interviews with both USAID contractors and think tanks, interviewers have shown a great deal of excitement and interest in the 4 + 1 style master’s program provided by La Follette. I believe that having an accelerated degree on your resume signals a strong dedication and genuine passion for policymaking, and telling interviewers about my plans to be finished with a graduate degree at 23 years old informs them of my willingness to go above and beyond in pursuit of my career and educational goals. I am a more attractive candidate as a direct result of my early involvement with La Follette, and for that, I’m pretty grateful.


I am not a formal Project Assistant (PA) or Teaching Assistant (TA) yet because I am not considered a full-time graduate student until this upcoming summer. This has not stopped me from attaining a research position with Prof. Reed Lei in the Political Science department. I really enjoy the international aspect of the research. Currently I am formulating datasets on ambassador visits both from and to the U.S. between 1980 and 2016, and it provides me plenty of time to improve Excel and R skills.


Recently I was offered and accepted the position of Joseph S. Nye, Jr. National Security Intern for the Middle East Security program with the Center for a New American Security, a DC think-tank that will involve defense and security policy analysis and research. The internship begins in February and runs until early August, so I hope to use my time to network with DC policy professionals and experts in my main field of interest. It is a wonderful opportunity to see where the bread is buttered, and I want to be as hands-on and helpful as humanly possible.

Primary internship responsibilities

I will be working on a team that aims to identify potential outcomes to the re-introduction of the Iran Nuclear Deal. The Biden Administration has expressed a willingness to re-enter discussions with the Raisi government, but many factors remain unknown. Should the US keep the terms and sunset clauses of provisions the same as the initial deal? Should the U.S. extend certain sunset clauses and add new provisions? What would such discussions look like if the Republicans gain back control of the US Congress in November? My team will be focused on addressing these possibilities in a succinct and non-partisan fashion.


I have reached out to La Follette School alumni Julius Svoboda and Anna Brunner about their roles at USAID and the GAO, respectively. I want to work in the federal government at some point in my life, and they gave me insights into the application process for these agencies as well as the tools and skills I should gain before attempting to secure a position.

Advice for prospective La Follette School students?

Challenge yourself. Take classes that you think you might be challenged, because showing a growth mindset and constantly aiming to expand what you know is going to get you far in life. Before getting the CNAS internship, I was taking a database management course in SQL. While I’ve had to drop it to make room for my DC position, I plan on taking it again next year as an elective so that I can learn something new and valuable to both the public and private sector.

Most challenging La Follette School experience?

Managing my time. Having to split an undergraduate schedule with graduate work quickly makes one realize how much more effort and focus should be given to graduate studies. Expectations and demands are significantly higher, and I appreciate that because hand-holding is not done in professional settings.

How has the La Follette School changed the way you think about public policy?

I just enjoy how La Follette makes the concept of achieving policy change realistic. I hold onto some pretty nihilistic tendencies about national politics and where the U.S. is going on a federal level, but I have learned to appreciate the ability and influence that smaller spheres of government have on people’s lives. Hysteria and propaganda is constant in today’s political arena, but I get to avoid that in my studies and concentrate instead on what responses or policies are reasonable for given situations. There is a difference between politics and policy, and I have come to appreciate that distinction.

Anything else?

My favorite book is 1984. I am a massive Denis Villeneuve fan, and Prisoners, Blade Runner 2049, Arrival, and Dune are all some of my favorite movies. I think Succession is the best current TV show, and I love watching and supporting the Packers, Bucks, and Brewers.