Virginia Andersen, a 2015 graduate of the La Follette School of Public Affairs, is a program analyst with the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau.
Between her first and second years at the La Follette School, Andersen spent her summer combing through state budgets and reports to compile information on how much states have been spending on kindergarten through 12th-grade education. Her research was part of her internship with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C.
"The research was for the center's State Fiscal Project," Andersen said. "They used the data to compare current to pre-recession levels of spending on K-12 education for a report that was released in October 2014."
Andersen also collected and organized data on incarceration and crime rates. "I did lots of work in Excel to set up the data so comparisons can be made easily," she said, adding that her first-year course on state and local finance likely helped her get the internship. "That course made me familiar with state tax policy."
Tax policy is one of the structural forces at play in the world that intrigue Andersen. "While I was a sociology student at Grinnell College, I found that I enjoyed thinking about how bigger forces help shape our society and how they help to shape what happens to individuals," she says.
After she graduated in December 2009, Andersen explored a variety of fields. Her first job was running the volunteer income tax assistance program for an Iowa community action nonprofit organization. "That experience gave me insight into how much tax policy affects people's lives and showed me how tax policy intersects with social policy," she said.
Andersen then worked for a Wisconsin organic farm, the Pearson educational testing firm and a Nebraska nonprofit organization that supported a foster care and neighborhood teen program. "Every position made me think about the work world differently and affirmed my interest in public policy, especially tax and social policy," Andersen says.
When she was ready to return to school, she applied to five policy schools in the Midwest. "I chose the La Follette School for its strong program on poverty and for its strong connections with the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP)," she said.
Andersen appreciates the scholars that IRP and the La Follette School bring to campus. "We can hear about the latest research from the professors who are the leading researchers in their field," she said. "We can go to a La Follette seminar and rub shoulders with the professor, which is nice."
The La Follette School's small program size also allows professors to give students a little more individual attention in the classroom, Andersen added.
During her second year at the La Follette School, she worked Professors Donald Moynihan and Pamela Herd as a project assistant (PA). She was a PA with La Follette School professor Michael Collins at the Center for Financial Security her first year.
"The center received a grant from the National League of Cities to survey cities on their financial inclusion efforts, which could include programs to ensure people have good financial literacy, incentives to encourage savings and programs to help people buy homes," said Andersen, who also had a fellowship from the La Follette School during her first year.
"I helped develop and administer the survey," she adds, "and I created the codebook for interpreting results and the related documentation, to get everything prepared for the subsequent data analysis."