Government, Policy, and Law

Rick Kalson

Rick KalsonRick Kalson graduated from UW-Madison in 1990 with a B.A. in History. He is a Partner at Benesch Friedlander in the Construction Law Group, and is the former Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, a Past President of Temple Sinai and the Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh, and the current Chair of the UW History Department Board of Visitors.

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My Junior and Senior Years at UW-Madison

Skills I Learned as a History Major

Rick describes the value of good communication and connecting with an audience.  During the last two years of college, he took extra seminars in history to hone his written and oral communication skills. He notes that communication will be the top marketable skill for students looking for a job, and that the History major prepares student for the LSAT as well.  The LSAT tests on reading comprehension, analysis, and logic – all skills that the History major teaches.

First job after college

Here, Rick describes his first job after law school in 1993, which shaped much of his career but not quite the way he thought it would.  He was underpaid and overworked, but by overworking, he got five years’ worth of experience in two and a half years, and that made him more competitive on the job market afterward and enabled him to get a much better job.

Advice for students

Rick explains why he encourages students considering law school despite the high tuition. He does warn against going to law school “because you think you’re going to be wealthy,” however, and notes that while earlier generations defined “happy at work” as a job that paid well, current graduates emphasize happiness through the work they do.  Law is “a great career if you really love the law and want to be an advocate,” he says.

Mike Beland

Mike BelandMike Beland graduated from UW-Madison in 2001 with a B.A. in History. A lawyer by training, he now works at a global consulting firm, Deloitte and Touche, LLP, where he helps clients navigate dynamic security risks. He also teaches a course on Congress at the University of Maryland School of Law.

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My Time at UW-Madison

I came to the University of Wisconsin after growing up in Durham, New Hampshire. I remember my matriculation being driven by two factors: my desire to be a journalist and my father’s encouragement to study in a different part of the country from the one in which I had grown up. I knew early in my freshman year that I wanted to be a history major focusing on American history. I enjoyed the professors, was passionate about the subject matter, and believed that the critical thinking and writing skills I would acquire could be translated into multiple disciplines.

As I reflect upon my time at the University, the impact of two professors especially influenced my thinking and gave me tools to enhance my career and contributions as citizen. The late Paul Boyer and James Baughman were larger than life figure to me. As a young undergraduate, my view of history was about political events. Professor Boyer thankfully destroyed this paradigm. His groundbreaking work in American intellectual history opened my eyes to understanding how people who were not in political institutions—writers, activists, movie stars, athletes—shaped the lives of their contemporaries, how our politics worked, and our lives today. He taught me how studying popular media could help us better understand the values and fears of society. That unique perspective helps me try to make sense of today’s world. Professor Boyer made clear that any analysis—be it historical or legal—must account for as much of a totality of events as possible and cannot be based upon a narrow perspective.

Professor Baughman was my honors thesis advisor and that was an unforgettable experience. My thesis focused on Congress’ role in the Vietnam War through the lens of how two senators—Wayne Morse and Richard Russell—struggled to oppose the conflict. Our weekly conversations frequently focused on the efficacy of Congress, its interplay with the Executive Branch, and what we, as citizens, need to do to hold leaders accountable so we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. We need to challenge our leaders, be active voices leading up to and between elections, and recognize that self-government mandates our involvement to be successful. In my jobs on Capitol Hill and the Executive Branch, I regularly considered whether the advice I was giving reflected the lessons that Professor Baughman and I talked about so passionately over the course of that project. I am forever in his debt.

Grad School and Career Trajectory

I like to think that my career is still in its early stages. Because the attacks of September 11, 2001 happened during my first week of law school (just a few months after I graduated from UW in the spring of 2001), my career is focused on the national security arena—and my study of history directly influences how I do that work.

My first job out of law school was working for John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004 and, not long after that, working for the Governor of New Hampshire. I then became a lawyer for the Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security in the U.S House of Representatives and, following Barack Obama’s election as President in 2008, was appointed by his administration to be a chief of staff and counselor in the part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security focused on securing our nation’s critical infrastructure.

Skills I Learned as a History Major

My study of history at the University of Wisconsin helped to shape my career and how I do my work. The training, the course of study, and two professors, in particular, not only propelled my career but also influenced my approach to fulfilling my duties as a citizen.

In each of the roles that I have played in my career, the skills I acquired as a history major— questioning respectfully, writing concisely, researching effectively, communicating understandably—assist me daily. Beyond those skills, however, my studies gave me a living understanding of how the institutions I have worked in and around—Congress, the Executive Branch—have shaped peoples’ lives and sought to learn lessons from the past. Importantly, my studies in the History Department encouraged me to be active in our politics. I have worked for and volunteered with a number of political campaigns—often bringing my young daughters with me—and I am the chair of the board of a non-profit organization in Maryland focused on educating the public about policies that will promote broad-based economic growth.

The perspective and skills I gained as a history major instilled confidence in me and have been key drivers in the success I have had in my career. But, more than anything, my study of history at UW taught me that, as a society, we are not guaranteed a happy ending. We need to work together to build the outcomes we seek to achieve and they are not preordained. That work requires effort, tolerance, and vigilance. In that regard, studying history at UW not only prepares us for our careers, but also for the most important position in government: citizen.

Teague Mawer

Teague MawerTeague Mawer graduated from UW-Madison in 2011 with a B.A. in History and Vocal Performance. She is the Director of Budget and Planning at the University of Wisconsin Colleges.

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My Work Life

I manage a total budget of almost $140 million and lead strategic planning and budget development efforts across the state’s network of 13 two-year liberal arts transfer campuses. My keen interest in public policy and world affairs depends on a grasp of the history that shaped them.

Thinking about Grad School

I didn’t take the traditional path of becoming a historian or teacher. While in my senior year of undergraduate studies, I was also completing my first year of graduate courses through the UW-Madison La Follette School of Public Affairs’ accelerated masters program. In 2012, I received my Master of Public Affairs degree.

First Job after College

Upon graduating with an MA degree in Public Affairs, I started working as a Budget and Policy Analyst with the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

Skills I Learned as a History Major

Although policy analysis was a bit of a departure from singing opera and studying colonial history, the skill set I gained during undergrad enabled me to appreciate the interdisciplinary connections along my path. My history coursework broadened my worldview, improved my critical thinking skills, and ignited a passion for sound public policy based on historical understanding.

I felt that studying history was a way to understand our common humanity and learn how to become better citizens of the world. Furthermore, my history major helped me understand the value of using my skills to serve the community in which I live and work.

Advice for Students

For students considering history as a major, it’s okay to be uncertain about your career path! Your undergraduate years are a great time to explore your passions and interests. Take advantage of the incredible faculty resources around you – they are eager to help you be successful. Instead of memorizing facts and dates, concentrate on the interrelationships of ideas, as well as building your analytical, research and writing skills. Getting involved in campus organizations was a wonderful way to enable both my academic and personal growth.

Jennifer Martin

Jennifer MartinJennifer Martin graduated from UW-Madison in 2008 with a B.A. in History and Political Science. She now work as a Legal Clerk for the Office of Legal Affairs at the University of Wisconsin.

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First Job after College

When I graduated from undergrad I moved to Scotland, and when I finally returned to the U.S. I got a job at the UW Graduate School, where I had the job of Academic Planner.

I have my current clerkship with the UW Legal Affairs office in my capacity as a law student; I do legal research and other work to support the legal matters that the actual attorneys’ work.

Thinking about Grad School

I only considered law school seriously because I was chatting with a friend (who has a J.D.) about an assessment I had made at work, and she told me that if I was interested in Law School, that I had a mind for it.  For me, it was like lightning striking – I had always wanted to go to Law School but it seems like I just needed ONE person to tell me that it was a possibility for me.

Skills I Learned as a History Major

Being a history major has set me up well to develop and apply my analytical “system” thinking. That is, when you study history you get a sense of how everything is interconnected, and you can analyze the who, the what, the why, and possible outcomes. It also set me up well to be creative in developing solutions.  In my lines of work, I’ve appreciated my bendy flexible mind, my sense that everything may not be what it immediately seems, and a comfortable practice of being open to constantly learning new skills and approaches.

Chris Mambu Rasch

Chris Mambu RaschChris Mambu Rasch graduated from UW-Madison in 1999 with a B.A. in History and Political Science. He is currently the Director of Government and Community Relations at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, a nonprofit organization based in Madison, WI.

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First Job and Internship after College

My first internship in college was being the Student Coordinator for the Ed Garvey and Barbara Lawton Campaign in 1998.

My first job in college at UW Madison was as a page in the State Capitol working for the State Senate.

Thinking About Grad School

I did consider grad school. I choose not to attend because I came from humble means and wanted to start working to earn a living and pay off my loans. I couldn’t justify going more into debt at the time. I was also done with college at the time and ready to jump into the workforce. In retrospect, there was a period about 5 years after undergrad completion at UW-Madison where grad school would have made some sense as I was more mature and more financially stable but I didn’t act on it.

Skills I Learned as a History Major

History gives you a well-rounded education and helps you be a critical thinker regarding what is currently happening. I’ve spent my entire career in and around politics and history and politics go hand in hand.