Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs

Community Advocates Inc.

I did my internship at Community Advocates Inc. (CA). The largest human needs advocacy organization in Wisconsin, CA’s efforts are twofold, offering both direct services – such as housing supports and counseling – as well as working to impact local and state policy through its Public Policy Institute (PPI). Though CA’s impact is felt statewide, it is felt most intimately in Milwaukee, where the organization has been located since opening in 1976.

During my time at CA, where I worked as part of the PPI team, I learned a great deal about how nonprofits operate. Specifically, I gained unparalleled insight into how crucial cooperation and interdependence are not only to the organization’s success but, ultimately, to its survival. CA relies upon state and city government for funding and direction, but simultaneously looks to locally based partner agencies to disseminate its message and maximize services for Milwaukee residents. Given my interest in nonprofit management and my aspiration to eventually work to address urban issues, I could not have chosen a more impressive organization with which to intern.

In addition to my daily activities and assorted projects, my direct supervisor really maximized my time at CA by allowing me to sit in on countless meetings, phone calls, and interviews. I even attended meetings and conferences in his stead. The ease with which he incorporated me into the Institute, the CA family, and the Milwaukee community offered me great access to the everyday operations of a nonprofit, both inside and outside of the office.

District of Columbia Public Schools

During the summer of 2012, I was an Urban Education Leadership Internship Program (UELIP) senior associate intern with the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) in Washington, DC. My internship with the Office of College and Career Readiness specifically focused on the community service high school graduation requirement in the public school district. As my education policy interests center around high school achievement in underserved urban areas, the internship project was an ideal fit.

The DCPS Municipal Regulations mandates that all public high school students must complete 100 hours of community service in order to receive a high school diploma. However, miscommunication about the requirement, the negative culture of “service” in schools, and the lack of student recourses inhibited students from meeting the graduation requirement. Throughout the summer, I met with over 30 DC non-profit organizations and federal agencies to capture their information in our volunteer opportunity database and receive feedback about service in schools. I also was responsible for creating electronic and paper distributable materials, such as parent brochures, counselor handbooks, and a DCPS community service website.

As a full-time intern at DCPS, I was quickly exposed to and familiarized with the school district's infamous history – including FBI probes, test score frauds, and external audits – as well as its recent accountability and teacher assessment reform efforts. I gained first-hand exposure to the challenges that face an urban school district with strained teacher and parent relationships. The UELIP program organized meetings with DCPS Chiefs and Chancellor Kaya Henderson, provided professional policy workshops, and offered interns the opportunity to work directly with DC students.

Fundación Ethos

During my summer at Fundación Ethos, a think-tank in Mexico City, the economic and development policy skills and knowledge from my first year at La Follette were indispensable to my success. Fundación Ethos evaluates public policies in Mexico and Latin America, with the goal of supporting more efficient policies for economic and social development. The main project I worked on during my internship was research, reporting, and raising awareness about the organization’s recent publication, “Tax Expenditures as a Tool for Economic Development.”  At the beginning of the summer my knowledge about tax expenditures (often referred to by their non-technical name, tax breaks) was very limited, but my familiarity with economics and public policies allowed me to jump in and help out right away.

My main tasks were to research tax expenditure reporting and evaluations at the sub-national level and translate the publication from Spanish into English. At both the national and state level, tax expenditures are not subject to the same authorization, evaluation, and auditing process as direct spending programs. However, they can represent just as large of a loss in revenue for the government and should be evaluated accordingly. The importance of proper evaluation of all economic policies— especially government market interventions and being aware of hidden costs—has been cemented for me. My research and translating skills were strengthened during my internship, and I now have a greater understanding of the challenges and rewards of working at a think-tank.

Government Accountability Office

I spent the summer serving as an intern for the Government Accountability Office in Dayton, Ohio. This office hosts one of the agency’s Acquisition and Sourcing Management teams. I was assigned to two separate engagements during my internship; one was a congressionally mandated examination of Executive agencies’ use of service contracts, and the other was for an annual assessment of selected Department of Defense weapons programs.

I was given work assignments almost immediately upon arrival at the Dayton office, which was a great way to acclimate to the kind of workload typically in place throughout the agency. Even on my first day I was presented with opportunities to apply the skills I’ve learned so far at La Follette. Some of the key lessons reinforced by the work were recognizing the role of agency rules as they relate to policy making; the importance techniques for effective communication; the creation of solid methodology when performing quantitative data analysis; and the critical role of documentation and indexing to ensure that all work is credible, repeatable, and auditable. The diverse nature of the GAO’s work required me to use all of these skills daily while analyzing a number of executive agencies and Department of Defense weapons programs.

Overall, I found my internship at the GAO enlightening and stimulating. The employees were very generous in sharing their time, expertise, and knowledge. My internship at the GAO is an experience I’ll never regret and one I would recommend to any student looking for a taste of real world analysis.

Government Accountability Office

I was an intern in the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s Chicago Office, and I worked on a telecommunications job as part of the Physical Infrastructure team. The full-time internship lasted 10 weeks, and I spent the entire internship helping the analysts on the job plan, design, and scope their review of receiver performance and spectrum efficiency. Congress mandated the GAO perform this study as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. The RF spectrum is a natural resource over which all wireless communications and signals commute. The spectrum is a non-depletable resource, but many of the prime frequencies have already been assigned at a time when demand for spectrum continues to rise. The FCC and NTIA already regulate transmitters, but this review seeks to answer the question of whether introducing requirements on receiving devices might make more spectrum available.

My internship occurred during the beginning phases of the job, so I was responsible for arranging and leading interviews with experts, industry participants and agency officials; creating work papers for internal use; analyzing previous work on the topic; and conducting literature reviews. My team treated me like just another analyst on the job, and they tasked me with a range of tasks that will help inform the conclusions they reach later in the review.

I did not have much experience working with spectrum or telecom policy prior to the internship, and neither did the analyst leading the job, so we spent the beginning part of the summer trying to understand the issue and the magnitude of the problem. The broad base of skills that La Follette provided in the first year lessened this learning curve and helped me contribute to the team’s key questions.

Rainbird Foundation

The Rainbird Foundation is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization with a mission to eradicate child abuse through its education and mobilization efforts. Rainbird is structured around meeting four main goals: funding effective organizations and individuals, educating the media, creating viable partnerships, and raising both public awareness of child abuse and participation in its mission to end child abuse. In my internship I assessed Rainbird’s current capacity to increase community awareness and participation. More specifically, the report I wrote for my internship considers the organization’s current efforts to recruit advocates and volunteers at different levels of engagement.  First, the analysis highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the non-profit organization’s efforts reach, educate, and involve the local, national, and international community. Secondly, I utilize outreach strategy recommendations provided by several successful non-profit advisory organizations to make some suggestions about potential areas of improvement for Rainbird.

Thrive

During the spring semester of 2012 I interned at Thrive, a Madison-based economic development non-profit that represents Dane County and the seven surrounding counties.  My time there was spent assisting in Advance Now, Thrive’s new plan for economic growth in the Madison region. 

One of my first responsibilities was to organize a graduate student forum to garner feedback on ways to make the Madison region more attractive from those graduating from UW-Madison.  Apart from event organizing, I helped to aggregate feedback data and present it to board members.  The information from this forum will be used to help shape Thrive’s economic development plan.  Prior to the event I was interviewed by a Wisconsin State Journal reporter about what graduate students look for, and I was quoted in the article advertising the event.

I also assisted Thrive’s Marketing Director in creating written materials, including blog entries, press releases, and widely distributed emails.  I also regularly participated in Thrive staff meetings to plan outreach strategy to garner support for the economic development plan.  I enjoyed having the opportunity to provide input on nearly all work that Thrive was doing during my tenure there.

This work taught me much about how to build support for community-wide efforts and what sorts of roadblocks must be overcome.  In addition, I was able to learn some of the basics about economic development and nonprofit management, including fundraising.  I believe this internship left me well-prepared for future work opportunities, whether in economic development or other areas altogether.

Public Service Commission of Wisconsin

I was an intern at the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC). The PSC is an independent regulatory agency that is responsible for the regulation of Wisconsin public utilities, including electric, natural gas, combined water and sewer utilities, and local telephone service. The PSC works to ensure that public utilities provide adequate and reasonably priced service to customers in the state’s market, which has no competition among utilities.

I was a part of the Focus on Energy team, working on biogas project. Biogas, together with geothermal and biomass, are renewable energy resources in which Focus on Energy, which is a statewide energy efficiency and renewable resource program, plans on investing 75 percent of its budget on in 2012-2014. Generated from anaerobic digestion process of municipal wastewater, agricultural waste, and industrial wastewater, biogas can be used in electric generation, space heating, and transportation. I spent most of my time gathering data on industries and wastewater treatment facilities which have a potential for installing the biogas system and could be potential candidates for the funding from Focus on Energy.
In addition to working on a biogas project, I found that attending meetings, both weekly team meetings and the PSC’s open meetings, is a great learning experience for me. I had opportunities to follow interesting issues that Focus on Energy was working on and observe how commissioners make decisions based on information from policy memos proposed by staff.

Being an international student, internship at the PSC is not only valuable to me in terms of learning how the real world works, but it also gives me an opportunity to experience the American working culture and lifestyle, which I would never experience without having this internship opportunity.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

Throughout the Spring 2012 semester, I had the pleasure of interning with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) Charter School Team, housed within School Management Services.  Given my concentration in Education Policy at La Follette and my past experiences teaching in charter schools, this experience was exciting in that it provided me with a real-world opportunity to observe how a state agency’s policies and inner workings impact education policies.  Beyond what I learned about the organization, I saw numerous applications of class concepts from my first-year La Follette courses, as they pertain generally to the department’s work with charter schools as well as to the special projects on which I worked.

Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services

This summer I worked with the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) as a Program and Policy Analyst.  DSPS was created in June 2011 through the merger of the Department of Regulation and Licensing and segments of the Department of Commerce. DSPS’s primary responsibilities are to regulate, administer, and enforce the regulation of professional licensures and constructed structures in the state.  My specific responsibilities involved: (1) researching the laws and regulations of neighboring states and the federal government, (2) researching the historical and current policy surrounding any disparity between regional trends and Wisconsin law, and (3) reviewing assigned program areas to determine best practices and evaluate the effectiveness of DSPS programs. I worked closely with department executives to recommend and determine the feasibility of changes to Wisconsin administrative code and statutes.

This internship gave me a better understanding of the politics influencing regulation in the state and allowed to network with top-level managers.  I would recommend this internship to any La Follette student interested in regulation and working within a state agency.

Wisconsin Medical Society

In the spring and summer of 2012, I served as the Health Policy Intern at the Wisconsin Medical Society. With over 12,000 members, the Wisconsin Medical Society is the largest association of physicians in Wisconsin. Due to nationwide concerns surrounding the shortage of physicians in the years to come, my primary assignment was to conduct extensive research on issues surrounding the physician workforce in Wisconsin. For the research, I explored a wide variety of topics, including, but not limited to, the composition of the physician workforce, rural and urban distribution of physicians, graduate medical education, student loans and financial incentives, medical residencies, reimbursement, payment methods, and health care delivery models. The research resulted in a policy memo with evidence-based recommendations for ensuring a sufficient physician workforce.

During my internship, I participated in several important meetings where I interacted with key policy experts and stakeholders (including physicians, academics, and representatives of nonprofit organizations and health systems) in the area of health care and learned about pressing health care and related issues. These meetings, held at the Wisconsin Medical Society and outside, provided me the opportunity to gain insight into the variety of perspectives that these experts have on major health care topics. I also analyzed government legislation and administrative codes, responded to member inquiries on various policy issues, helped council members to review the organization’s policy positions and provided logistical support for council meetings.

The internship was an excellent opportunity for me to apply my analytical skills in a highly professional environment.

Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson

During the summer of 2012, I served as a legislative intern in the office of Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson. While I gained experience in a wide variety of activities, I focused much of my time on two long-term policy research and proposal projects throughout the entirety of the internship.

The first project concerned the licensing procedures for older drivers in the state of Wisconsin. The Quantitative Tools for Public Policy Analysis class I had taken proved to be particularly useful in my research for this issue when I was attempting to determine whether or not older drivers posed a significantly increased safety risk as compared to drivers in other age groups.

The second project concerned a policy proposal of my own, which was the possible implementation of a bottle deposit law in Wisconsin, wherein a small deposit would be paid by consumers upon their purchasing of closed-lid beverages and then refunded in full upon the returning of the empty containers in order to increase recycling rates. The Policy Analysis class I had taken ensured that I was prepared with the necessary tools for a thorough analysis in order to make an informed recommendation.

The common thread in these two projects that was apparent to me throughout my research was how well John W. Kingdon’s Multiple Streams theory, which I had studied in The Policymaking Process class, explained the process from conception to enactment. In addition, a report written by former La Follette students on this issue was particularly useful in providing data as well as additional areas of consideration. Among other things, this internship provided me with a clearer understanding of how policy is developed at the state level and in a hyper-partisan climate.