New Brown School alum plunges into COVID policy at City Hall | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
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New Brown School Alum Plunges into COVID Policy at City Hall

Alumni; COVID-19; Community Engagement; Policy; Public Health

In late February 2020, Madisen Janssen, MSW '20, began her work for the city of St. Louis, just a few months shy of her graduation from the Brown School. Little did she know the transformative experience that awaited her.

Janssen works in the office of Mayor Lyda Krewson, as the mayor's liaison to the Board of Aldermen. She had worked in the job before as a fill-in, part of her Gephardt Public Service Fellowship, and a good fit for her concentration at the Brown School: domestic social and economic development, with a policy specialization. But her experience and classroom work could not have prepared her for the pandemic explosion that would rock St. Louis and nation only two weeks after she was sworn in.

"Everything happened very quickly," she said.  The first case of COVID-19 in St. Louis was reported March 16, and Mayor Krewson issued executive orders banning gatherings, at first of more than 1,000 people, then 50, then 10 to halt the spread of the virus.

Now her role is permanent one, and her duties include tracking virus data, aldermanic committee hearings,  following the legislative process, and communicating updates to the mayor and her chief of staff.  Providing information to aldermen on best practices and virus numbers as new developments occurred during the first stages of the crisis was a challenge.

"The aldermen had a lot of questions from businesses and other constituents," she said. "It was amazing how quickly the situation could change," Janssen said. "Communication has really been key."

Janssen also assisted with the city's spring budgeting process. The pandemic and its economic consequences have had a big impact on that budget.

"It's a very good learning experience, and there's always something new."

Janssen says the Brown School prepared her for many of the skills she would need in the dynamic world of city politics, from policy classes to state-level lobbying experience in the field.

Janssen was a special education teacher before resuming her education, and while she had always been interested in politics and policy, never imagined it as a career path. That has changed.

"Ours is a unique city-government structure, and I like working in the legislative world," she explained. "One of biggest surprises for me has been how many services city government provides every day," she said. "The scope of city government and how it impacts our daily lives is much bigger than I realized before I began working in the Mayor's office."