From Utah to Texas via the Hertie School

Nate speaking during the 2017 Alumni Reunion in Berlin.

Nate Bassett, MPP 2015, never imagined he’d be studying San Antonio’s budget in Berlin.

Nate Bassett was 29 when he arrived at the Hertie School in Berlin after a lengthy and emotional journey, his arms bruised by the weight of his luggage. “It was the great unknown,” he says. A native of Utah, his travels abroad had until then consisted of a day trip to Mexico from California and brief stops on a couple of islands during a Caribbean cruise.

Nate had worked for the wholesaler Costco for 11 years, and managed to fund his undergraduate studies, earning a BA in Finance from the University of Utah. He had also dealt with his devout Mormon family’s struggles to accept his decision to come out and his political activism in support of gay marriage. He was, he says, not a typical Hertie School student.

“I come from a background that is blue collar,” Nate says. “My parents were very involved in the church community, but not in the broader community. More than most people at the Hertie School, my experience here has really made an impact on my life. A lot of the people who attend the school are global citizens before they get here, and have a lot of international connections. I didn’t have that good fortune.”

Attending a Hertie School alumni meeting in Berlin in April 2017, Nate was about to embark on another long journey – one that, like his first visit to Berlin four years ago, will transport him to a new life.

He will fly home to Washington DC, drive to Utah to pick up some belongings, and then drive all the way down to San Antonio, Texas, -- not far from the Mexican border -- to start a new job as a budget analyst for the city government. He estimates he will be on the road for five days.

Asked how the Hertie School prepared him for his new role, he laughs.  For a course on urban management with Professor of Public Administration and Public Policy Kai Wegrich, he wrote a paper on how budget classification in US cities could affect policy. One of the budgets he examined was San Antonio’s – all 700 pages of it. “I had studied the San Antonio budget before I got this job,” he says.

Nate’s interest in politics and governance dates back to 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. On the very same night as the presidential election, Nov. 4, California voted in favour of Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. His family’s church supported the proposition.

“That led me to get really interested in politics,” Nate says. He had taken a sabbatical from work for the last year of college and became involved in organising marches and rallies against the amendment.

With his new-found interest in public policy, Nate applied for graduate programmes and was, to his surprise, accepted into six schools. He chose the Hertie School in part because of the opportunity to live in Europe. “Hertie does a good job of giving you a global perspective,” he says. “I feel the experience I had was quite amazing in terms of the people I met. The level of discourse with other Hertie graduates is phenomenal and I really enjoy and appreciate that.”

During his time in Berlin, Nate and a fellow student, Florien Kruse, started up a club focused on gender issues. Nate is delighted that it has not only survived, but expanded. “It is cool to see something that you started flower into something even larger,” he says.

On graduating with a Master in Public Policy in 2015, Nate returned to the US and interned for the Utah branch of the Democratic Party before he found a job in Washington D.C. working for a professional association in customer service. His aim in the long term is to work as a public advisor or to seek public office.

“I am still trying to figure out where I want to settle down and then I will get politically active,” he says. “It is very tricky in the U.S. right now -- there is a lot of dysfunction. Even with the current president, the left is having a hard time unifying.”