With Wisconsin’s Senate changing hands in 2010, Steven Kulig needed a new plan after spending three years as a legislative aide.
Kulig ended up following advice from Fitchburg mayor Shawn Pfaff, a 2002 La Follette School alum and a senior associate at Capitol Consultants, and applying to the La Follette School.
In the interim, Kulig found a new full-time job with another senator and so enrolled part time in fall 2011 in the school’s master of public affairs degree program.
“I’m taking two classes each semester, so I’ve got two more years,” Kulig says.
The La Follette School’s course work immediately proved useful on the job, Kulig says. “My thinking has really changed about how to outline and analyze issues. I took Policy Analysis during my second semester, and I already could see I had improved my skills — I am quicker to understand and evaluate a policy and I produce a better recommendation.”
Steven Kulig, left, met with Governor Jim Doyle at a bill signing in 2009. The legislation legalized U-turns at controlled intersections when a "No U-turn" sign was not present. "Previously, all U-turns were illegal in Wisconsin regardless of signage," Kulig says. "While working for Senator Jim Sullivan, I drafted the bill language, worked with local governments, the Department of Transportation and other legislative offices to refine the language and to ensure the bill passed into law. The bill passed with bipartisan support."
Kulig became interested in politics while he was an economics major at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He interned with a senator then was hired full time after he graduated in 2007. He has volunteered for many other local, legislative and statewide political campaigns. “While I was an intern, I realized that legislative and political work would be a good career for me,” says Kulig, who now coordinates internships for students as part of his job as a legislative assistant.
At La Follette, Kulig serves as the student association’s alumni coordinator. In that role, he will work with students, staff and faculty to coordinate the annual Madison reception, and help students make other connections with alumni. “Since I am going to school part time, I thought it made sense for me to have some sort of involvement with my classmates outside the classroom,” Kulig says.
Indeed, connections and collaborations among the students have been a pleasant surprise about La Follette, Kulig says. “I started my undergraduate work in the business school then switched to economics because the business school was so competitive and cutthroat.”
“The La Follette School is much more representative of the real world,” Kulig adds. “In the Legislature, we have four people in my office — we are expected to work together, and our work is only as good as the weakest link in the group. La Follette does a good job preparing us to work together.”
The small size of the La Follette program is another asset. “We work in small groups with our classmates,” Kulig says. “We get to know the professors on a first-name basis. We can be comfortable asking questions of the professor and asking classmates for help. It seems like a cooperative effort.”
The courses have pushed Kulig to think outside his comfort zone and use new skills to analyze policies. “The La Follette School gives students a perspective of how to look at a public policy issue from all sides,” Kulig says. “It’s been very rewarding as I apply my policy analysis, writing and critical thinking skills.”
When Kulig graduates, he wants to continue working in politics within Wisconsin, at the state or local level. “I believe everyone is responsible for finding ways to improve the lives of people who are less fortunate,” he says. “Public policy is an avenue to assist people. We can help them directly through constituent relations or more broadly by improving public policy that affects a wide group of people.”
— posted June 18, 2012