From DU to the Colorado State Capitol
For many graduating students, the days and weeks before Commencement are often spent trying to identify and then secure that dream job. But Spencer Rockwell has known precisely what job he wants for nearly two years. He just needed to find the right time to apply.
Although Commencement is still a week away, Rockwell has not only landed that job, he has spent the past two months fulfilling his new responsibilities at the Colorado state capitol. He works as a budget analyst within the Office of State Planning and Budgeting. Making it to this position is the reason why he decided to attend the University of Denver two years ago.
After completing his undergraduate degree in English literature from Mesa State College, Rockwell went on to work with the Mesa County Health Department and Aurora Public Schools. By immersing himself in the areas of health care and education, he was able to witness the interworkings of the policy process.
“These areas are so important, and so many lives are impacted by health and education,” Rockwell says. “You really get to see how the policy process works when you have a lot of people with very different interests and stakes involved and how that works itself into a policy.”
Rockwell says attending DU was an obvious next step, in part because the Institute for Public Policy Studies is the only program of its kind in the region. However, he quickly determined a master’s degree in public policy would not be enough for what he ultimately wants to do.
“I began to realize how often policy intersects with economics,” he says. “Every policy comes back to these economic issues of: Can we afford it? How can we afford it? What’s the most efficient and sustainable way to construct this policy? That is when I decided I also needed to focus on economics.”
In March, Rockwell successfully defended his dissertations and completed his master’s in economics from the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences, along with a second master’s in public policy from DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. He believes both programs and his experience at DU prepared him for working in the governor’s office.
“The faculty support, the attention that you get, the depth of the programs, how the curriculum engages in the topics that I am interested in, but also gives me a lot of opportunity to apply that learning as I go along, that was really valuable to me,” he says. “This is what made it worth the time and money for me. I knew the value was there with this learning experience.”
Now two months on the job, Rockwell says there’s nothing he’d rather be doing. Every year as different state departments submit their budgets, it’s his job to evaluate their requests. He loves the idea of being part of the process by making recommendations and suggestions to the governor for what is fundable and sustainable policy.
“We play a critical role as evaluators of budget requests,” he says. “Our expertise in our role really centers around, is this good policy practice? Is this good budgeting practice? It’s amazing. I really could not ask for more.”
Rockwell believes none of this would have been possible without his time at DU and making the very most of his experience on campus.
“Your educational experience is always going to be whatever you make of it,” he says. “For me, waiting several years before going to graduate school allowed me to get the most out of the experience. I went in with a much clearer vision of what I wanted to achieve.”