The Badger of the Year Award recognizes local alumni who have represented the university positively through success in their profession, community service initiatives, or volunteer activities.
2019 Badger of the Year Award Winner, WAA Washington DC Chapter: Alexis McDonald ‘08
Alexis MacDonald earned a Master of Public Affairs from the University of Wisconsin in 2008. Although she had no Wisconsin ties prior to studying there, one of the main reasons Alexis decided to pursue her master’s degree at UW-Madison was because of its longstanding commitment to practicing the Wisconsin Idea—extending its expertise beyond campus borders to solve problems and make positive changes throughout the state, the nation, and the world. As a graduate student, Alexis worked for the university’s Evidence-Based Health Policy Project, interned with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and volunteered as a Girl Scout leader in Madison. While she moved to Washington, D.C., shortly after graduation, Alexis still strives to practice the Wisconsin Idea through her career and community service efforts, where she dedicates much of her time to serving our nation’s veterans.
Since 2008, Alexis has worked for the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent, nonpartisan agency that evaluates federal programs at the request or mandate of Congress. At GAO, Alexis primarily evaluates the delivery of health care services by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), having served as the lead analyst on many GAO reviews relating to the accessibility, quality, and cost of veterans’ health care. Her work has led to numerous recommendations that have been implemented by VA, helping to improve the agency’s performance and ensure better accountability. In 2015, GAO honored Alexis with a meritorious service award, in recognition of her outstanding and sustained performance in the oversight of veterans’ health care. She is currently serving as a GAO detailee with the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, where she is supporting a variety of VA health care oversight efforts.
Outside of GAO, Alexis has maintained her UW-Madison connections and extended her commitment to practicing the Wisconsin Idea by serving as a volunteer with Badger Honor Flight, which is a Madison-based nonprofit organization. It is part of the national Honor Flight Network, which flies military veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials built in their honor. Alexis began volunteering with Badger Honor Flight in 2010 and has proudly helped welcome more than 3,000 veterans from south central Wisconsin to our Nation’s Capital. Together with fellow UW-Madison alumna Nicola (Niki) Sollinger (‘99), Alexis has served since 2015 as a D.C.-based volunteer coordinator for Badger Honor Flight. In this capacity, Alexis and Niki organize a cross-generational group of dozens of UW alumni and friends in the D.C. area that support Badger Honor Flight during each of its trips to Washington. These volunteers fulfill numerous roles throughout each Badger Honor Flight trip, including by serving as local tour guides on the buses, and as one-on-one buddies for veterans who are not accompanied by family members. Alexis often says that her work with Badger Honor Flight is the most rewarding volunteer work she has ever done. She has learned a lot—about history, sacrifice, and overcoming adversity—from the veterans she’s met along the way.
While Alexis does not make it back to visit Madison nearly as often as she would like, she has stayed engaged with the university by helping her employer recruit UW students for internships and jobs. Alexis has also helped host groups of UW Public Affairs students who have come to D.C. on career development trips, and she helps organize informal networking events for Public Affairs alumni that reside in D.C. Alexis was excited to return to Madison in the fall of 2018 to celebrate her class’s 10-year reunion, at which time she and fellow classmates participated in a meet-and-greet with current UW students. This provided a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the value of her University of Wisconsin education, which played a crucial and indispensable role in fueling Alexis’s lifelong passion for public service.