#ELGLPopUpMKE Recap from UW La Crosse

Posted on October 26, 2018


Thanks to Sara Schnoor and PMA financial Network six students from the University of Wisconsin La-Crosse were able to attend the #ELGLPopUpMKE. Their experiences will be shared here over the next few days.

Devin Decker

Devin Decker

It has been difficult figuring out what I want to do. I have held a solid interest in politics ever since high school and have been blindly following that interest through my college education. As helpful as my advisors have been over the years my end goal has been fuzzy. The usual motif has been getting involved in a political campaign or working for a political party. This is a solid idea but I have issues aligning with one party. Even if it’s not the case in practice, in this age of partisan politics I feel like I need to get in line with one to pursue a career. Participating in the Milwaukee ELGL meetup opened my eyes to a new realm of possibilities in local government.

When I received the email offering the opportunity to participate in the Milwaukee ELGL pop-up, I was confused on what the event was exactly. However, I was eager to gain any experience in the political sphere. I did not know what to expect but was delighted to see what the event was actually about. From Mayors and Broadcasters to Government employees and other students, this event was filled with people excited about building community through strong government planning and community involvement. In a polarizing time plaguing the political system, it was a breath of fresh air to meet and talk with people about the possibilities of working in the United States Government.

The beginning of the day I was bombarded by thought provoking information from Conservation Biologist Julia Robson, and Madison WI Director of Transportation Ashwat Narayanan. Julia Robson’s presentation outlined the importance of preserving natural green space in city planning, and Ashwat Narayanan presentation showed historic failures in city transportation and how modern day solutions have corrected these problems. I can see how combining these two different mindsets are essential to creating long lasting efficient cities.Following these presentations was a panel including Detroit Michigan Chief Storyteller Aaron Foley, Wauwatosa Mayor Kathy Ehley and Director at Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management Christine Westrich. This panel was focused on the path each of these people took to get to their current position. Hearing varied stories and the madness of some of the paths made me feel better of my uncertainty as an undergraduate student.

The lunch hour was a blast. I sat at a table by myself and soon the table was filled with strangers. Luckily I was sitting next to Josh Dukelow, host of WHBY’s “Fresh Take”. His outgoing personality didn’t take long to drag me into conversation about my story and what I wanted to do. This was my favorite part of the day. He gave me advice on education after UW La Crosse, he also shared his chaotic road to his current Profession and yet again instilled a bit of confidence in myself that not knowing what I’m going to be doing is okay as long as I’m working hard and moving forward.

Immediately after lunch I heard another panel, this time with Executive Director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities Jerry Deschane and Executive Director and CEO of The Michigan Municipal League Dan Gilmartin. This panel was focused on how communities can stay appealing and draw people in to build stronger communities. I never looked at a city through this lens. I made connections to my hometown in both good and bad things they have done and the effect those decisions have made on the community. Their discussion made me see how much local government can accomplish. Especially if given more freedom from government on the State and Federal Level.

The last presentation of the day was given by Catalyst, Host, and Author Steph Crosley. Her presentation focused on not only her path to her current position but also was very interactive with the room, she kept returning to the question “Why do you do what you do?” her questions about struggle, solutions, and how to keep moving forward were answered in small groups. I was lucky enough to sit at a table with Mayor Kathy Ehley, Jerry Deshane, and Kyle A. Knott, a Community and Economic Development Intern for Mukwonago. Despite only being an Undergrad all of these people paid close attention to every word I contributed and gave helpful feedback to what I said. It made me realize that behind the education and titles these were people that were truly willing to listen and help.

The ELGL event was followed by a social hour at Mo’s Irish Pub. Now that I had spent a day meeting and briefly chatting with many of the people at the event it was nice to relax and chat in a relaxed setting. I made many new connections and met a ton of new people. Before the ELGL meetup nobody had brought up the idea of local government.Participating in the ELGL meetup opened my eyes to a new realm of possibilities. Not only was it refreshing to see government in a more positive light, but being surrounded by so many different people from various professions all excited and hopeful about the future made me feel hopeful myself. I had no idea what to expect going in to this event, but I left excited and feeling better about not only my own future but also the future of American Politics in general.


   Benjamin O’ConnellO'Connell

The ELGL Pop Up in Milwaukee was a great learning experience. On top of that, I got a cool ELGL hat that I’ve worn quite a bit during this chilly week. It was the first conference I had ever been to like it, and I thought it was particularly interesting to see the emphasis on creativity with things like the play-doh and coloring sheets. ELGL conferences are definitely something I would love to go to again.

Something that always fascinates me is the way that local governments communicate with the public. I had never really thought about a city’s communication department as storytellers before this conference. After listening to Aaron Foley speak about his position as Detroit’s Chief Storyteller, it became apparent to me that this is a very descriptive title for the position and an important one for local governments. It has made me look into the way La Crosse handles their communication with the community and surrounding area, and attempt to seek out areas of improvement.

Another part of the day I found intriguing was the GovLove podcast panel. I had no idea that there was something like this out there until I heard about it at the conference. It seems like an extremely innovative way to highlight the work of local government across the country. Since I heard about it at the conference, I’ve been thinking about doing something similar here in La Crosse with members of our local government to spotlight some of the cool initiatives that they are doing.

It was interesting to hear from radio personalities like Dan O’Donnell, because it’s easy to forget about how important things like the radio can be when it comes to awareness on local issues. It was especially interesting to hear that any comment is better than no comment. Even if something bad happens in your city, control the message by commenting instead of letting the media frame the issue how they want.

The networking session at the end was fantastic as well. Hearing the stories and different takes on local government from people was helpful as I’m getting closer to graduating and figuring out what I want to do afterward. I think it was a great way for everyone to close out the day too, as opposed to sitting in the same place all night. It was a great opportunity to talk with people I had wanted to talk to earlier in the day, but was unable to during the earlier sessions.

Hunter Lisko

Hunter lisko

Having had the opportunity to attend the ELGL Milwaukee event, I can confidently say that ELGL is doing work that no other organization is doing. By bringing local leaders to the table to share innovative ideas and their aspirations, local government leaders from across the region were strengthened and given a new set of ideas to take back to their communities. The work of distilling and communicating best practices among peers is not often done in local government networks. However, ELGL is able to break down that barrier and provide the type of networking and support that local leaders need to make a difference in their community.

During the Milwaukee event, several panels touched on various topics of interest to local governments. What I found to be most interesting and impactful was the panel entitled “Our Winding Roads to #GovLove.” During the panel, we heard three different stories from dynamic leaders on how they came into their career in local government. Christine Westrich talked about her journey from military service and the federal government into emergency managmenet. Mayor Kathy Ehley of Wauwatosa talked about volunteer and advocacy work and how it landed her in her position in city hall. Aaron Foley, the Chief Storyteller of Detroit, also talked about his media and journalism experience and how he found himself using his skills to tell the story of the city of Detroit. As a student, I found this panel highly encouraging and one that made me confident in my own #GovLove journey.

As I will be graduating in May of 2019, I am beginning to explore careers in local government, but I am not exactly positive of the path that I will be taking. Hearing from these incredible leaders reassured me that local government is the career area that I want to pursue, but that there is not singular way or “correct,” way to enter into the field. Each of the panelists had a dynamic career that changed several times before they arrived in their current roles, and it reminded me of the breadth of roles in local government and the boundless opportunity to be involved as a community leader.

Finally, the opportunity to network and build connections between myself and local government leaders will prove to be invaluable. The power of having a strong network, and in particular with a group of people willing to share new and innovative ideas, will help me be the best local government leader that I can be going forward. I look forward to continuing to be involved with ELGL and further strengthening these ties between myself and other leaders, as well as between communities.

Cassie Schmidt

Cassie Schmidt

As an undergraduate student in Wisconsin, the ELGL Pop Up Conference in Milwaukee provided an amazing networking opportunity. Throughout the day, we learned about local government from leaders who had firsthand knowledge and experience. The speakers came from a wide range of careers and backgrounds, which allowed us to learn about many different local government topics and kept the day interesting. While this conference is targeted at community members already working in local government, it provided insight into what a career in local government would look like. As an undergraduate student, it is important to gain this kind of experience.

The speakers at the conference all had different opinions and advice on the functions of local government. Chris Abele, Country Executive of Milwaukee, began the conference by introducing himself and how he became the country executive.

One of my favorite speakers was Julia Robson who is a Conservation Biologist at Waukesha County Parks. She spoke about eco-bridges, which can be built over highways to connect ecosystems together. I thought this was a great representation of the innovations happening in local government.

]The “GovLove” panel including Christine Westrich, Mayor Kathy Ehley, and Aaron Foley, showed how people in local government can work together and learn from each other. They each held very different positions in their respective municipalities, and yet were able to discuss the same issues that they all face. I enjoyed how they were able to ask each other questions and deliberate as a panel.

The closing speaker, Steph Crosley, was a great way to end the conference. She is an example of success in Milwaukee, coming from a rough childhood, and growing up to be a successful woman. She encouraged the audience to dig deeper, thinking about what they love about their jobs and how they want to make a difference.

After the conference, we were able to go to Mo’s Irish Pub for a social hour. Throughout the day, we had short breaks that gave us the opportunity to meet other people at the conference. The conference was small enough so that you were able to meet and interact with others, but also large enough to not be intimidated. The social hour was a great way to interact with the local government leaders at the conference. As a student planning on going to graduate school in Milwaukee, I was able to meet great people and build connections. Being able to put my name out there is going to be very beneficial when I want to find a job in Milwaukee in the future. Overall, this conference was an amazing opportunity, and I am very grateful for experience.

Benjamin Polony

Benjamin Polony

Local government has always been a great interest of mine. The services it provides, its place in society, and its goals are all interesting and valuable. When I was afforded the opportunity to attend a conference centered around emerging local government leaders I was ecstatic. The conference allowed me to meet other current and future leaders in local government and get insight into the world which is local government.

At the conference I was able to hear many great speakers give presentations on a wide range of topics concerning local government. Most notably, Ashwat Narayanan gave a splendid presentations regarding transportation and the future of it in Wisconsin. While I personally am not from Wisconsin (I am from the Chicagoland area) it was great to hear his perspective on the importance of public transit for the future of Wisconsin. Reducing dependence on personal transportation was a cornerstone of his presentation, and it is a very important one. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is much easier to accomplish if you get more people using public transit options rather than personal ones which use more energy.

Ashwat also showed us how investing in good transportation and its infrastructure can make places seem much more appealing and attract a lot of people, especially millennials. Places can seem a whole lot nicer when they aren’t focused on cars and instead focusing on pedestrians, then bicyclists, and so on. This allows for more infrastructure money to be put toward things like sidewalks, benches, trees, etc. All such investments will attract more young people who are looking for a sense of place in their community, not just a bunch of roads for cars.

It was also great to hear from panelists like Aaron Foley and what drove them to become apart of local government. We all of our own personal reasons why we decided to follow a career path in local government, and Aarons definitely stood out as a truly meaningful reason. Coming from modest means in Detroit and going into journalism, only to have to leave jobs and get laid off. His writing, however, caught the attention of Detroit’s mayor leading to an offer to work for the mayors office writing about Detroit’s own stories. A man who came from a career that shuns government, found his calling in local government, so he could benefit the people of Detroit through telling its story.

Overall it was great to be able to hear a lot of different perspectives on local government issues and what local government should be about. Everyone at the conference agreed and made points relating to local government being something that affects peoples day-to-day lives, making it the most important level of government for people. In addition to that, it is one of the only forms of government where your voice can surely be heard and has the most transparency. These are the points that have inspired me to go into local government and serve people. This conference helped boost my resolve to be in local government and give me new ideas that I can take with me as I go on with my education and career.

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