Sierra Fischer is promoting strong and safe communities by helping the National Council on Crime and Delinquency calculate how many probation and parole agents, supervisors and support staff are needed at the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and predict future workload demand.
The La Follette School student is interning as a research assistant with the council, which is based in Madison. "I have my hand in a lot of different projects," Fischer says, "from data management to writing literature reviews. Topics include adult protection services, adult and juvenile justice, child welfare and education."
An earlier project, prepared for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, examined whether the agency can use information caseworkers record to systematically identify which children it serves can benefit from a more comprehensive screening assessment for traumatic symptoms. Fischer says. "Children in the child welfare system are a vulnerable population. We tried to assess which kids need further assistance in regard to the trauma they experience."
Fischer came to the La Follette School via its accelerated degree program through which qualified, admitted University of Wisconsin–Madison undergraduates can complete a master's degree with a fifth year of study. Fischer graduated in May with a major in community and environmental sociology and political science, plus certificates in global health and environmental studies. "My work in the Department of Sociology's Concentration in Analysis and Research program made the La Follette School's Master of Public Affairs degree a natural next step," Fischer says, adding that her supervisor at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Kirsten Johnson, is an alum of the La Follette School.
More broadly, Fischer came to appreciate the influence of public policy. Through her internship with the council and an earlier stint with the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin at the University of Wisconsin–Madison's School of Medicine and Public Health, Fischer learned more about environmental and public health.
"I asked myself, 'What can I do to make a difference?'" Fischer says. "I saw how public policy influenced people's lives and how important data are to back up proposals advocates make to solve policy problems. That's how I ended up the La Follette School."
At La Follette, Fischer has appreciated the group work aspect of the courses. "The emphasis on group work is different from what I experienced as an undergraduate," she says. "I like getting the feedback from my group members. The small program means that we get to know the people we are working with."
She adds that the work she does at La Follette is more applicable to life. For example, for the public management course, her group looked at the decision by the Wisconsin city of Lake Mills to not merge its fire department and emergency medical services. "We outlined best practices for the city to follow for the interactions between the two departments," Fischer says. "We interviewed people and went to town meetings. The merger was a big deal to the residents — it was great to see people get involved with their government."