Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, October 20, 2014

Bower plans to apply management skills in sustainable agriculture

Alisha Bower Alisha Bower

Alisha Bower has a plan that will take her to Latin America and then bring her home to the United States, ultimately to run a farm.

"I want to work in international agriculture development," the first-year student says, "then I will return to the U.S., put down roots and work on sustainable agriculture issues, eventually transitioning into farming myself."

Bower came to the La Follette School to gain the training and management skills she will need to work in the nonprofit sector. "From my experience as an undergraduate, I know I want training in the nuts and bolts of public policy," she says. "Being a good consumer of policy skills will be helpful."

While an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus, Bower got involved with environmental issues and held three internships with two sustainable agriculture non-profits and a farm-to-restaurant business. "I knew I was interested in international travel and world affairs," says Bower, who grew up on a hobby farm in southwestern Wisconsin. "That led me to major in political science and Spanish. I picked up a minor in sustainability studies and found that my true passion called me back to my roots in food production. I also found that I loved the flexibility and the variety of tasks I found with my work in the non-profit world."

One of Bower's internships was the Liberty Prairie Foundation, which is part of an ecologically designed housing development in northern Illinois that includes an organic farm. Bower ran a food distribution program in a nearby low-income neighborhood that had no easy access to fresh food. "The outreach director was on maternity leave, so my fellow intern and I were really on our own," Bower says, "running the program, working with community partners and pulling together all of the program administration."

To gain nonprofit management skills, Bower looked at public affairs programs for graduate school. The La Follette School's flexible curriculum prompted her to choose its Master of International Public Affairs degree program. "Of the schools I considered, I really liked how La Follette has courses in which we gain core skills and then we get to craft a curriculum beyond that," Bower says. "We can go take classes anywhere we want at the university. Other programs felt like they were invested in having you take their classes and be in their tracks — and they didn't have an agriculture track."

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The offer of a fellowship and a scholarship coupled with in-state tuition was another incentive. "I am grateful to the donors to the Clara Penniman Scholarship Fund," says Bower, who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2014. "I have high hopes that my degree from La Follette will allow me to forge my career in non-profit work in advocacy on behalf of sustainable agriculture, and the scholarship is helping to making it all possible."

"In my two years here I hope to drill down on concepts related to non-profit management, program evaluation, human resource management, land use law and agricultural economics," Bower adds. "I am particularly interested in working on agricultural workers rights, and beginning farmer issues such as land access and market development. I know I want to work with people, so La Follette's courses in public management and program evaluation will be of great use."

Bower appreciates the small size of the La Follette School's program. "We really do have a cohort feeling that you are all going through the same stuff together," she says. "We have Facebook groups for each class. No matter what time it is, you can find someone who is also struggling with a problem set and wants to collaborate. Also, the teaching assistants and professors are open to meeting and helping."

Outside the classroom, Bower is working for the IPM (Integrated Pest Management) Voice project, a Madison-based non-profit organization that advocates for expansion of the economic, environmental and health benefits of IPM. "IPM practitioners in agriculture and communities learn pest biology and use that knowledge to reduce pest control costs and hazards," Bower says. "IPM relies on inspection and monitoring to detect and correct conditions that can lead to pest problems. Practitioners act against pests only when necessary, and they use the least-hazardous methods when action is needed."

All Bower's experiences in public affairs are helping her toward her career goals. "When I get up in the morning, I want to know that I'm doing something for more than myself," she says. "That is why I am here at La Follette in this field. I am motivated by the good of the whole and working toward that."