Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Alumni give back during DC career exploration trip

La Follette School students in Washington, DC, in November 2018 La Follette School students in Washington, DC, in November 2018

A whirlwind trip to Washington, DC, gave 26 La Follette School students numerous opportunities to learn about working and living in the nation’s capital. Dozens of alumni also shared information with students about their careers and experiences during the school’s fourth La Follette in DC career development program since 2013. 

“La Follette in DC was an incredible experience,” said Michael Caniglia, one of the 12 first-year students who participated. “It was awesome to see how passionate alumni are about helping current students.”

La Follette School Associate Director Steve Kulig (MPA ’14), who participated in the first La Follette in DC program as a student in 2013, accompanied the group.

“This type of outside-the-classroom experiences are crucial to our students’ professional success and the ongoing development of our alumni and friends network,” he said. “We are extremely grateful for the dozens of alumni and friends who so willingly share their time and talents with our students.”

The two-day program in November 2018 began at the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Julius Svoboda (MIPA ’07) helped arrange the 90-minute meeting and spoke with the students about his career path. Svoboda joined USAID in January 2018 as a private enterprise officer for Power Africa and a liaison to the Overseas Private Investment Corp.

Svoboda, Farha Tahir (MIPA ’10), and Andrew Trembley (MIPA ’12) then participated in a luncheon panel discussion, answering a wide range of questions from students. Tahir is a program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy, and Trembley is an education and evaluation consultant in international development.

That afternoon, the students visited Grant Thornton, a private consulting firm. Phil Kangas, who leads the firm’s Global Public Sector consulting, provided an overview of his team’s work and career opportunities at Grant Thornton.

Five 2018 La Follette School alumni at Grant Thornton – Casey Hutchison (MIPA), Chad Laurie (MPA), Chris Meyers (MPA), Travis Shoemaker (MPA), and Sangeetha Shreedaran (MPA) – also spoke about their work and answered students’ questions. Laurie, Shoemaker, and Shreedaran had participated in the 2016 La Follette in DC program as students.

“Visiting Grant Thornton during La Follette in DC was the first time I even considered working in the private sector rather than working in government,” said Shreedaran. “I’ve always loved the DC area, so participating in La Follette in DC affirmed my decision to live and work here.”

Jenny Grover (MA ’91) then welcomed the students to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), where more than two dozen La Follette School alumni work. Grover joined GAO shortly after receiving her master’s degree and currently serves as director of its International Affairs and Trade team.

Ben Emmel (MPA ’15), who participated in the first La Follette in DC program in 2013, led the 90-minute presentation and discussion. Also presenting were Joe Thompson (MPA ’03), Christie Enders (MPA ’07), Linda Collins (MIPA ’12), Travis Schwartz (MPA ’15), and Jessica (Sabin) Ard (MPA ’16), who participated in the 2015 La Follette in DC program when she was a student. Amber Yancey Carroll (MPA/JD ’04) participated via video conference from GAO’s Chicago office.

Several La Follette School alumni, including Liz Hartjes (MIPA ’12), Michelle Duren (MIPA ’15), and Moira Lenox (MPA ’17), also welcomed students and staff.

Thompson, an assistant director with the Natural Resources and Environment team, joined the GAO shortly after receiving his master’s degree from the La Follette School.

“Working at a nonpartisan legislative branch agency that helps improve the performance of the federal government in an objective, fact-based, non-ideological, and balanced way is congruous with the Wisconsin Idea and my personal ethics,” Thompson told the students. “The La Follette School gave me the skills and confidence to make it happen.”

Yancey Carroll, a senior analyst with the Education, Workforce, and Income Security team, also spoke passionately about her work at the GAO. She completed an internship at the GAO’s Chicago office during summer 2003 and joined the agency’s Professional Development Program in September 2004.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of my work has been hearing from and observing the experiences of individuals directly impacted by the policies we review,” said Yancey Carroll. “This has included hearing from victims of domestic violence trying to apply for TANF benefits, listening to the concerns of veterans with traumatic brain injuries trying to navigate employment and job training services, witnessing long-term care residents participate in assisted absentee voting, hearing from employers in Puerto Rico dealing with a struggling economy, and observing the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina to small communities in Mississippi. Their stories are the reason I pursued a career in public policy and listening to them has been a privilege.”

The first day concluded with an Alumni & Friends Reception at Clyde’s of Gallery Place. Director and Professor Susan Webb Yackee welcomed attendees, and Alexis MacDonald (MPA ’08) welcomed everyone to DC. MacDonald, a senior analyst at the GAO, is on a special assignment with the US Senate.

Nearly 100 students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends attended the networking event, including Assistant Professor Emilia Tjernström and Chris Stassel (MIPA ’17). With funding from the Herb Kohl Public Service Research Competition, Stassel served as Tjernström’s project assistant during the 2016–17 academic year and summer, when they conducted research in Kenya. Stassel relocated to DC in fall 2018.

“The DC Alumni & Friends Reception has become a go-to event for the 200-plus alumni who live in the DC area,” said Yackee. “Throughout the year, our incredible alumni give back to their alma mater in so many ways, and this is one opportunity for us to show our appreciation.”
Yackee, Tjernstrom, and other faculty members were in DC for the Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management Fall Research Conference.

The Urban Institute, a nonprofit organization founded in 1968, welcomed the students for their second day in DC. Since 2007, the La Follette School and Urban Institute have worked together to present the Paul Offner Lecture Series, which is held in Madison and DC alternating years. UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank gave the 2018 lecture titled Inequality and Higher Education, during the students’ visit.

After the presentation, several students spoke with Chancellor Blank, Urban Institute President Sarah Rosen Wartell, and Molly Offner, director of policy for the American Hospital Association. The lecture series was created in memory of Molly Offner’s husband, Paul, after his death from cancer in 2004.

The students then met with researchers and recruiters from the Urban Institute, including C. Eugene Steuerle (MA ’72), an Institute fellow and the Institute’s Richard B. Fisher chair. Steuerle previously was the economic coordinator and original organizer of the US Treasury’s tax reform study of 1984 that led to the Tax Reform Act of 1986.

From the Urban Institute, the students returned to Clyde’s for a closing luncheon with Michael Rodriguez (MPA, MS ’09), Julianna Stohs (MIPA ’17), Katherine Sydor (MPA ’12), and Kevin Lee (MIPA ’18). The alumni networked with students during lunch and then participated in a panel discussion, when they shared information about their career paths and answered questions.

Rodriguez is the Greater DC Area leader of market research and analysis for CBRE, Stohs is an assistant program officer on the Eurasia program team at the National Endowment for Democracy, Sydor is a program examiner in the US Office of Management and Budget, and Lee is a contact officer for the Marine Corps.

In addition to the scheduled activities, students had the opportunity to explore DC and the surrounding area. Some also scheduled individual meetings about internships and jobs with potential employers.

“This program would not be possible without the generosity of the dozens of alumni and friends who so willingly provide guidance and encouragement to our students,” said Kulig. “We also are grateful to the many others who support the program through their financial donations to the La Follette School.”

Also accompanying the students were Sr. Student Services Coordinator Mo O’Connor, Sr. Outreach Specialist Bridget Pirsch, and Sr. University Relations Specialist Lisa Hildebrand.