A Professional Work Experience with a Research and Analysis Focus

This post was written by current UNC MPA student Corinne Burda about her professional work experience with Cybercrime Support Network.

——————————————-At the beginning, I was looking for a PWE where I could develop skills in research and analysis. I found that opportunity with Cybercrime Support Network (CSN). CSN is a non-profit organization that works with individuals and businesses who suffered from online scams as well as other cybercrime attacks. They have a network with organizations in both public (ex. DOJ, Congress) and private sectors where they serve as a bridge for the victims.

I interned as a part-time research analyst. I found and presented data relating to current cyber security laws (both domestic and international) and current programs (both private and public). CSN used the research in multiple reports that were submitted to CISA as well as including it in the Cyber Resource Catalog on their website. The Cyber Resource Catalog is a vetted list of the best resources related to particular cybercrime topics and my research resulted in the addition of several state resources to the catalog. In addition, I translated current cyber laws to Spanish for an international project. It allowed justice professionals to quickly understand how their data might be related to data elsewhere in the world. 

The PWE experience with CSN overall introduced me to the global issue with cybercrime and how it has affected billions (especially during the pandemic). It made me realize a possible solution to combat against cybercrime requires an effort between both public and private sectors. It also led me to realize that this is an area in need of public service leadership. This PWE experience overall has given me a chance to utilize my skills that I have gained and discovered throughout the program. In particular, my skills for research and analysis from PUBA 719-720 and PUBA 760. By opening myself to a new opportunity, I was also able to find a mission (combatting cybercrime and promoting justice) I am passionate about that aligned with my skills and values (justice and integrity). Lastly, this PWE experience has shaped my vision for my future career goals in my current job within the Department of Justice as well as within completing the MPA degree.


Some of our students gathered in person for the annual Bureaucrat’s Ball.

Hi Everyone!

It is an exciting time in the UNC MPA program! This is the final week of classes, which means the second-year student are about to graduate and the first-year students will begin their Professional Work Experiences (PWEs) very soon. The last week of classes are always busy. All semester-long projects and papers are due while preparing for final exams, or in the case of second-year students, applying and interviewing for jobs. It is a lot to manage, and we have learned the value of resilience and persistence through the program.

If you have been keeping up with the blogs, you may be curious about the results of the Portfolio and final Oral Examinations. If you are a first-time MPA Matters blog reader, the Portfolio and Oral Examination are the thesis equivalents for the MPA program. The second-year students spent the semester distilling major lessons learned throughout the MPA program. The Portfolio was evaluated by a committee of three faculty members. The committee members provided feedback and granted the student the opportunity to defend their Portfolio in front of the committee. The defense portion is called the Oral Examination. For the residential students, all passed both stages, which means we are officially allowed to graduate with a Master of Public Administration from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill!

Two years ago, when I first began the MPA program, I experienced tremendous imposter syndrome and questioned if I would be able to see the program through. The journey seemed tough, and I had not yet fully discovered the tenacity that existed within me. I know I experienced and overcame numerous challenges, both personally and academically, while pursuing this degree. I also know that through these challenges, I learned many lessons about myself and others. I learned that I am thankful for the support of many friends and loved ones. I learned that asking for help is acceptable and a sign of strength, as people want to help you succeed. I learned that failure is not inherently bad, but rather an opportunity for growth. Finally, I learned that even during stressful times we can do hard things and should celebrate each win!

During a typical year, the second-year students would be preparing to participate in a public celebration of a two-year win in the making. For the past two MPA cohorts, the graduation ceremony honoring all the hard work of both residential and online students alike has been interrupted by the pandemic. Last year around this time, my cohort was hopeful that the situation would be different by the time our graduation arrived. We were hopeful to share one last memory together in person as the MPA Class of 2021 before we headed into the workforce.

There is a sadness in knowing that the tradition of an in-person hooding and individual graduation ceremony has been interrupted once again. There is also hope and joy in knowing that everything we have experienced in the past year and a half has prepared us for this moment— and I do not just mean our expertise in operating Zoom. Rather, I am reflecting on our creative abilities and dedication to uplifting and celebrating each other with intentionality, even through all the challenges we have experienced. While a virtual graduation ceremony is not how we expected to conclude our experience, each MPA student has earned their time in the spotlight! I am looking forward to the opportunity to express how proud I am of each member of my cohort!

Current student describes professional work experience in a legal clinic

Written by Current MPA Student: John Williamson

In 2018, I entered the UNC MPA program. To be honest, I had no idea what my future career path would look like at that time. What I did know is that I eventually wanted to enter the legal profession as an advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves, so I also enrolled in law school at the University of Houston that fall. Three years later, I am now on the cusp of graduation in both programs, and will be entering the full-time workforce this summer as a commercial litigation attorney in Houston, Texas. Through the MPA’s Professional Work Experience (PWE) requirement, I believe that I have found my career calling.

Through the PWE program, I found an internship that has allowed me to intersect my two passions; law and public service. I am currently working as a student attorney in the Consumer Law Clinic at University of Houston. This Clinic has proved to be the perfect combination of my two different, but related, graduate degrees. The Consumer Law Clinic serves the Greater Houston area by providing free legal services to those who cannot afford competent representation. I am specifically involved in the actual representation of our Clinic clients as well as general oversight of administrative work related to improving our community outreach.

While my legal education has prepared me to provide adequate representation to our clients, my Public Administration education has provided me with the tools necessary to assist managing a public organization such as this Clinic. Specific tools that I have developed include, but are not limited to, project management, leadership, and communication skills. The skills that I learned in the UNC MPA program have prepared me to not only work in any public administrative role, but to also be an active leader in such a position.

I highly recommend this MPA program, and PWE component, as it will not only teach you key concepts regarding public administration, but the program will also assist you in finding a work opportunity tailored towards your personal interests and expertise. I can proudly say that UNC has helped me find and develop my passion. My overarching goal upon completing the program is to pursue a legal career in which I provide legal representation to those who cannot afford it.

Stress Management for Students

Current MPA Student Clay Fleming on a coffee break/hike with pals from his cohort.

Hello again everyone! We are one month away from the end of the semester, which is always a busy and stressful time in the MPA program. The second-year students have submitted their final Portfolios and are preparing for their Oral Examinations while also applying for jobs. The first-year students are finalizing the research papers they have been working on all year while submitting group projects they have been managing throughout the semester.

All of these requirements can be overwhelming and stressful. For this reason, I decided to ask my peers about their stress management habits to see how they are prioritizing their wellbeing. Below are their responses:

I’ve found having a morning routine helpful in managing stress. I like to take a few minutes in the morning (without my phone) to think, set intentions, and just exist before jumping into the chaos of the day. When I wake up on time I also like to start the day with a quick yoga practice. If I have extra time I will scroll through social media. Then, I make a cup of tea to enjoy during the beginning of work or class.
-Valencia Wagner, (2nd year)

I like to take long walks next to the Potomac River and C&O Canal! On days I can’t get out for a walk, I at least try to sit on the porch with some coffee or kombucha and enjoy the sunshine for a bit. Being outside always helps with my stress levels. That and napping!
-Mira Singhal (2nd year)

Working out, playing basketball, reading, trying to get outside as much as possible.
-Sam Ingalls (1st year)

One of the biggest ways I have managed stress is to make running a daily habit. Carolina North Forest is a wonderful space in Chapel Hill with fabulous trails, which I have made great use of. Running has helped me be intentional about a stepping away from my computer, sticking to schedule, and taking a much-needed break. I also find when I run I am hydrating more, eating healthier, and sleeping better- all aspects that I can neglect when I don’t properly manage my stress. Even if running isn’t your thing, getting outside and moving your body for just 30 minutes a day can make a big impact. Do it- I know you can!
-Laura Robinson (2nd year)

I’ve found that doing things that allow me to tap into my creativity has been really helpful in managing stress — especially things where I’m working with my hands and can be away from screens. I’ve been making polymer clay earrings, and it’s been a really wonderful way to unplug and do something just for myself.
-Kathryn Paquet (2nd year)

Taking a lot of walks, listening to true crime and comedy podcasts, and trying new recipes.
-Maggie Bailey (3rd year, dual-degree student)

New fun podcasts, different shows, trying new recipes, changing up my music tastes!
-Hallee Haygood (3rd year, dual-degree student)

My stress management mainly revolves around taking my dog for long walks and taking her to the dog park. For me, it just makes me stop thinking about my stress and bringing my attention to the present. Other than that, I am a believer in Netflixing. When I am stressed, I like to watch shows that will make me laugh and are not too serious or intense. Just lighthearted content. When I am extremely stressed I combine Netflix with intense cleaning and organizing (even if it is 11 at night).

When I get stressed out I will do whatever assignment is stressing me out! Putting it off just makes me more stressed.
-Chrisy Hayden (1st year)

Morning meditation and yoga; Weekend hikes in Pisgah National Forest
-Macie Rouse (1st year)

I prioritize social and personal time doing things I enjoy, giving me a brief escape and mental reset. If I’m having a really bad day and have a lot of work but am really stressed, I’ll take two hours to go on a walk and facetime a friend, because nothing productive comes from an anxiety ridden mind.

Definitely through exercise and what I like to refer to as “depression baking” which is what I do when I feel like things are too out of my control and I need to narrow my focus
-Mallory Verez (1st year)

Working out and yoga!
-Ansley Birchmore (1st year)

Identifying stress management strategies and activities is a crucial step to prioritizing wellbeing during overwhelming situations. I am very proud of my peers for knowing how they can best manage stress so they can regain their focus. It appears that some form of exercise and enjoying the outdoors is a common thread amongst my cohorts. My practice is very much the same.

Going on bike rides and long walks with my partner has helped me disconnect from my phone, email, and schoolwork to give me some time to be present. I also enjoy calling a friend and catching up on life so I can maintain some of my social needs. Additionally, sometimes I just need one lazy day where I binge watch a tv show, have a movie marathon, or play board games all day to really give myself some time away from what is causing the undue stress.

I hope everyone who reads this is considering ways to manage stress. Hopefully, you already have some strategies that you currently practice when you are in troubling times. If not, I hope this blog provided some motivation and ideas for various ways to prioritize your wellbeing.

A Year of a Pandemic

Hello Everyone!

I hope you are all doing well! This time last year was a weird time for my cohort and many other students. We had just received an update from the University that our Spring Break was being extended by a week so faculty members could transition to teaching online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Looking back on the transition, I remember it was challenging for everyone in my cohort. We were confused by all the changes, as we switched to an online platform most of us had never used before. We were scared because of the pandemic and the constant sorrow surrounding the news updates as cases and deaths began to rise. A lot of us were lonely because we lived by ourselves near campus and our families weren’t always nearby. Our only interactions with others occurred through Zoom.

We are officially a year into online learning, and we have not shared a physical space with my cohort since last March. I miss the conversations we shared during lunch where we connected on more personal levels. I miss cracking jokes with my peers between— and maybe also during— classes as this always made our time more interesting. I also miss the ease of support that comes with interacting with your friends every day.

I know our experience isn’t exactly unique. Many other individuals experienced similar feelings during this uncertain time. One thing I am very proud of is how well my cohort adjusted. While our enthusiasm was affected by the pandemic, we were able to seek new ways to support each other. We held virtual happy-hours and movie and game nights to ensure we could all interact outside of a Zoom class.

One time, we all decided to surprise Dr. Maureen Berner during her class by wearing hats. Each of us entered the Zoom session wearing a hat that was either silly or brought us the most joy. It was our attempt to continue making class fun for everyone, including Dr. Berner. She even surprised us with a silly hat as well.

Additionally, we were all still seeking and confirming Professional Work Experiences during this time while maintaining the heavy academic lift associated with the first-year spring semester. Our motivation for school was tested. Yet, we persisted. Now, we have been online for a year and it has become part of our typical routine. We persevered through the challenges and learned from our experiences and we are better for it.

I feel very fortunate to have made such tremendous and supportive friends through this program. These individuals are strong, compassionate, intelligent, and hardworking. They face challenges with poise, creativity, tenacity. Each individual is going to be an excellent public service leader.

Some PWE’s (Professional Work Experiences) around Town

Occasionally, we like to feature current MPA students who are in the midst of completing the Professional Work Experience component of the program.  Our PWE’s are similar to an internship except we ensure your projects and duties are 100% leadership oriented because that’s what our program is about .  

This blog post was written by current MPA student Sa’metria Jones about her Professional Work Experience (PWE).  Sa’metria lives a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, currently residing in Clayton, North Carolina, and is a current MPA student in our online format.  She works full time in the North Carolina Office of the Governor as a Policy Advisor.  She is planning to graduate this December.

I am working with the North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) to fulfill my PWE hours for the MPA program. NCBCE is a non-profit organization that operates out of the Office of the Governor and serves as link for North Carolina employers and the education system. NCBCE invests significant time and resources to develop and promote work-based learning initiatives in North Carolina. In early 2020, pre-pandemic and before our lives changed, NCBCE, in partnership with the North Carolina Community Colleges, the Office of the Governor, myFutureNC, and the state Division of Workforce Solutions, launched NC Career Launch—an effort to increase post-secondary attainment and connect students to jobs in high-demand fields. Unfortunately, the pandemic interrupted the initiative’s momentum.  I am working with the Executive Director of NCBCE to elevate NC Career Launch and restore the pre-pandemic momentum. One way we are working to accomplish this goal is by developing youth apprenticeship programs to pilot under NC Career Launch.

For my day job, I work as a Policy Advisor in the North Carolina Office of the Governor. I have a far-reaching policy portfolio that touches several state agencies. Although NCBCE is housed in the Governor’s Office, it functions as its own nonprofit organization. In addition to program development, I thought it would be great to have practical experience working directly with an executive director to learn the ins and outs of nonprofit work. As a state employee and a student completing my PWE with a nonprofit, I have been able to see how the structure of both organizations can either help or hinder progress. In addition to that realization, I have also learned how nonprofits leverage their stakeholders, board members, and flexibility to make connections and promote their initiatives. It has also been rewarding to experience how innovative, proactive, and forward-thinking nonprofit leaders are, and effectively have to be, to accomplish their goals.

My professional and academic background is in law and policy– all in the public sector. However, my experience with NCBCE is unlike one I have had before and compliments my background well. I am unsure of which route I will to take in the future, but I am grateful to have the opportunity to explore the nonprofit world and how it interacts with state and local government.

Stay tuned for more guest bloggers talking about their PWE experiences this semester!

Job Search

Hi Everyone,

Is it just me or has February felt like the longest month of the year so far? Anyway, in this blog post, I want to share some insight into what students are experiencing in the MPA program right now. For the majority of us— first and second years alike— we are engaging in the fun and challenging process of job searching.

Right now, the first-year students are dedicating a substantial amount of their time to securing a Professional Work Experience (PWE). For those who are unfamiliar, a PWE is the program’s equivalent to an internship. It is a practical component of the program, where students work as full-time public administrators for a summer. Some PWE opportunities even accept students to continue working for the following year.

Searching for a PWE is an exciting and nerve-racking time for students. They are interviewing almost every week for a position but will eventually land a job that presents a new learning opportunity. One first-year student mentioned, “I’m excited to have the opportunity to apply the skills I’ve gained from my first year in the program toward my PWE.” It is interesting to see the knowledge we accumulate throughout the year playout in real time while working. Anything from actionable feedback to analyzing the organization from Bolman and Deal’s four frames can and will make an appearance.

However, since interviewing is challenging, my advice for current and future students attempting to secure a PWE is to trust the process and know your worth. Rejections will happen and they can hurt. It is okay to feel sad about a rejection. However, it is unacceptable to let that rejection define you and keep you from pursuing opportunities that excite you and help you grow! You are valid, valued, and will land a PWE that will provide many educational opportunities!

As for the second-year students, we are still working to complete our Portfolios and many of us have been applying to jobs regularly. Many of us have felt challenged in this process, especially with COVID 19 impacts. However, the challenges have not overpowered our excitement to showcase our knowledge and skillsets both in interviews and when we accept the job of our dreams.

We are also taking the time to celebrate our friends for their successes in the job search. We are very proud of Shakera Vaughan for landing a job with the Housing and Community Department in the Town of Chapel Hill, working as the Community Connections Coordinator. Additionally, a few members in my cohort have been accepted as finalists for ICMA’s Local Government Management Fellowship, which is a thrilling way for these individuals to start their local government career. As a collective, the second-year cohort is very proud of these successes and we look forward to many more. I hope to continue sharing more success stories in the near future.

My Final Semester


Back to work with my first peer portfolio review meeting of the semester.

Hello everyone!

Welcome back to my first blog post after an extended—and much needed—winter break. I used this break to rest, relax, and create a solid separation between school, since I know this spring semester will be busy. To ensure I was creating this separation, I enjoyed a lot of time doing things that are not related to school.

One of my favorite hobbies is watching movies, and this break provided plenty of time to enjoy some new and old favorites. I am a massive Harry Potter fan, so a winter break without a HP movie marathon is not a break at all. Additionally, I watched 16 Marvel movies in one week because my partner had never seen any of them. I grew up watching the Marvel movies in theaters as they were released, so this was a wonderful walk with nostalgia. A new movie that I found particularly fascinating was Disney’s Soul. The movie was a refreshing reminder to reflect and pursue your passion and purpose.

Additionally, I finally had time to read a few books for pleasure—once again, not related to school. Over the break, the first book I finished was Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life by Ozan Varol. This book provided excellent strategies to think creatively and problem solve to ensure success in your work. Another novel I completed was The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, which delivered a thought-provoking and philosophical outlook on life and the choices we make. The last book I finished was Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. The stories from her life are absolutely thrilling and engaging and offer a new perspective on the importance of education. I highly recommend all three.

While I really enjoyed my break and all of the free time that came with it, I’m glad to get back to work and continue learning. This semester is especially exciting, since it is my last one and I will be graduating in May! (I know you are all cheering with excitement and wishing me an enthusiastic “congratulations,” so thank you!) All of the classes I have enrolled in this semester offer new skillsets that I have been wanting to develop, which really excites me and motivates me to finish strong.

The last semester also brings the inevitable portfolio and oral exam. Much like Harry and friends and the Avengers, my cohort and I are facing our final battles in the MPA program. We have quickly realized the immensity of the work involved in defeating this monstrous final assessment. It is a massive undertaking. However, as I have been reflecting on the material from my classes, it is amazing and refreshing to see how much I, and my peers, have learned. I want to be clear, though; the process is not a pleasurable flight on a Nimbus 2000 above the Hogwarts grounds. Nevertheless, the outcome will be worth the struggle when I can finally begin working as a full-time public administrator!

Throughout the remainder of my time writing blog posts, I am excited to keep you updated on the portfolio process as well as other happenings within the MPA program. I hope you continue to follow along.

Welcoming our NEW MPA students!

A couple of weeks ago, we had 22 bright and eager students begin our online MPA program, and we couldn’t be more excited to introduce them to you. With most of them averaging 10 years or more of work experience and 27% of them holding advanced degrees, we are proud to be the next step in their personal and professional journeys.

As always, we like to showcase the breadth and diversity of our cohort in terms of backgrounds, interest areas, diversity, and interests. Here are a few of their noteworthy mentions:

1 international student joining us all the way from Jakarta, India
1 Superior Court Judge from California
1 Police Lieutenant from the City of Portland, OR
4 practicing attorneys
4 health care administrators (UNC Health Care and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Indian Health Service, and United Network for Organ Sharing)
1 Local Government Employee Match Scholarship Recipient
5 currently working for the federal governemnt
2 Active Military
1 Marine Biology Educator

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. We are so excited to have all 22 of you, and we promise you’re going to gain so much from this program.

Applying to grad school is a big decision in and of itself, but doing so in the midst of a pandemic and the state of our world brings a whole new level of commitment. While some might find themselves with more time to research graduate school and apply, I suspect many of us are still having a hard time focusing on a big thing amidst all of the chaos and uncertainty.

One thing is for certain, never has there been a more critical time for good public administrators and for people to believe in the power of good public administration. Over the last year, we have seen this at the state and federal levels of government with respect to the pandemic and a public health crisis and economic shutdown. And we have seen it at the local level of government with the focus on fair and equitable law enforcement and public safety issues.

So, we are thankful for all the public administrators out there doing their job well. And we are thankful to our newest MPA students for their drive, tenacity, and interest in making better communities! Good luck and welcome to the Carolina family!

Wrapping up the Semester (Part 2)

The spring semester for MPA students is always an exciting time. The first-year students are exploring different classes and searching for the perfect Professional Work Experience (PWE) while the second years are preparing their portfolio and applying for jobs. During the winter break before the busyness of the season ensues, I wanted to give the students some time to think about what they are excited about in the coming semester. Here are a few thoughts from current residential MPA students:

Hallee Haygood (3rd year, dual-degree student)
I cannot wait to start my local government career! Only one semester between me and the best job ever.

Laura Robinson (2nd year)
Next semester I am hopeful that I can hone in on professional opportunities for my time post-MPA. I would like to see my professional background in education mesh with an open position in Public Administration, whether that is in local government or the nonprofit sector. The MPA Portfolio, while stressful and overwhelming, can offer an opportunity to synthesize the ways in which the MPA program has allowed me to grow as a leader and public servant. This, I hope, will not only help prepare me for interviews, but will help me to enter a new position with confidence.

Nikki Abija (1st year)
I’m excited for my PWE! I’ll finally get to work in a field I’m very passionate about.

Mira Singhal (2nd year)
I am interested to learn more about how public leaders solve (or try to at least lessen) the wicked problems we face in our communities. COVID seems like the perfect example of a wicked problem for so many reasons. As we deal with a global pandemic, I want to see how our leaders at the local level still maintain services and resources for their residents.

Mallory Verez (1st year)
I’m looking forward to learning more about PWEs and the core of public administration work.

I am excited to work on my PWE. All my work experience is with the federal government and am excited to work with a local/state government or non-profit. I imagine budget management may be much more difficult when working with a smaller department.

Sally Moore (1st year)
I’m super excited for Organizational Theory! I’ve heard it’s a lot of reading, but the course material seems super interesting to me.

Francesco Tassi (1st Year)
I’m excited to learn more about the financial and budgeting aspects of local government (Professor Afonso’s class) and taking my first elective in the Public Policy Minor. I’m also considering a dual degree in City & Regional Planning. Overall, grateful for the numerous paths available when pursuing an MPA at UNC.

Taking the time now to really appreciate the opportunities that lie ahead is important, as there is a lot to look forward to next semester. For me, I’m excited for the job search. Finding a position that will welcome me as part of the team and encourage me to flourish is a thrilling experience. I’m ready to land a job that will challenge me in new ways and help me cultivate new skillsets. Attaining a job that is a perfect fit will be a fun adventure, and I will have my Carolina MPA experience to thank.