Rather than being incarcerated, at-risk teen boys are learning how to grow and sell organic vegetables, practice good financial skills, and market and sell products, thanks in part to Katie Herrem's work with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
As juvenile program services supervisor with the Division of Juvenile Corrections, the 2008 alum helped to develop and launch Grow Academy, an experiential agri-science education program.
"The DJC recognizes the expanding need for out-of-home placement for delinquent youth who are short of high school credits," Herrem says. "Grow Academy helps these teens through an evidence-based, correctional program consisting of an agriculturally based educational curriculum, community partnerships, and cognitive-behavioral treatment to reduce recidivism among youth."
The Grow Academy is part of the juvenile treatment and education planning that Herrem oversees. "I serve delinquent youth, guiding policy and program decisions with the ultimate goal of giving these kids a future that doesn't involve incarceration and helping them rise above all the challenges and trauma in their lives," she says.
At the structural level, Herrem plans and coordinates the implementation of statewide evidence-based correctional practices for the DJC—a task that her La Follette School training made easier by making her an informed consumer of statistics, research and cost-benefit analyses. "When I'm weighing evidence-based options, I can do so competently and confidently," says Herrem, who attended the April 2014 Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development Conference and learned about evidence-based programs for youth-serving agencies and related implementation approaches.
In another project, Herrem clarified and improved standards for residential programs. "I rewrote the division's contracts with community-based residential programs for youth on community supervision, including establishing a three-tiered set of standards for facilities and apartment programs that serve older youth," she says.
Herrem join the DOC in 2011 as a program and policy analyst. She had worked as a program analyst at the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau since 2008, when she completed her double degree in public affairs, and urban and regional planning.
While at the university, Herrem was a planning intern with the city of Monona and with Vandewalle and Associates. She also worked as a graduate assistant with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research for more than two years. "My experience at WCER allowed me to learn firsthand about various types of program evaluation," Herrem says. "I participated in an actual evaluation in which one of our deliverables was to provide recommendations to a foundation on how to better evaluate their own grant programs. Working with incredibly knowledgeable and talented Ph.D.s in that role taught me a tremendous amount about how to think about and approach evaluating the implementation and impact of programs."
Herrem notes that she uses her La Follette School training every day. "My courses at La Follette taught me how to think critically about issues, identify the important components and context, conduct a thorough analysis, and write succinct policy recommendations," she says. "As an analyst at LAB, I practiced and refined those skills with a great emphasis on accuracy and objectivity. In my current position, I use my knowledge to assess program and policy needs, identify program options to meet those needs, and then facilitate the selection and implementation of those programs."
The La Follette School opens all kinds of doors people may not know exist, says Herrem, who was a program manager with Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan before she decided to go to graduate school. "I was always interested in critical thinking, problem solving and social policy issues, but I didn't really know I could channel that into a specific career path like policy analysis or program evaluation," she says. "La Follette exposed me to career opportunities I may not have otherwise considered and prepared me to be successful in whichever career path I traveled."
Herrem has helped current students plan their career paths by participating in mock interviews held as part of the Professional Development Workshop. "I know what it's like to feel educated and pretty prepared to take on the world only to realize that things aren't often the way I'd envisioned them," Herrem says. "Navigating a career path involves much more than an advanced degree. I've been fortunate to have a few really powerful mentors in my professional life and be introduced to opportunities and learn skills that will serve me well throughout my career. I like to pass along whatever pieces wisdom I can to help other build on their academic achievements and be prepared to succeed on the job."
"My time at La Follette set the trajectory of what has so far been a very rewarding career in public service," she adds. "While I've been building my career, I've also been fortunate to have a wonderful, supportive husband and two awesome daughters who make me laugh and cheer me on every day."