New Year, new you?

This post was written by current MPA student Stephen Thompson.

———————————————————————————————–After the excitement of the holidays has begun to dissipate, and the novelty of seeing my extended family has all but worn off, my attention is beginning to turn to the upcoming Spring Semester. If you’re in a similar situation, you know the exhaustion of doing all the things you never have time for, mixed with fatigue from baking, social engagements, cooking, pre-holiday shopping, family time, post-holiday sales, and more social engagements with the family. Now, we find ourselves ramping up for the new year [When does the vacationing start on Winter Vacation?]. The MPA program’s focus on Leadership and self-development has me thinking about the tradition of resolutions. If you’re feeling intimidated about coming up with a resolution for 2022 [“2020, Two” I’ve heard it called], I wanted to pass on some sage wisdom I’ve learned regarding self-improvement plans. Here are three tips for setting goals/resolutions for the new year.

1. You don’t have to

Many people feel pressured to pursue “progress,” in the new year. There can be existential pressure to “be a better you,” or change your life or habits when the calendar strikes one each January. For some folks this is an energizing feeling, which motivates them to start reading for pleasure again or dust off that exercise machine, but for others this feeling can be anxiety or depression inducing. If you are in the latter camp, it is perfectly OK to abstain from reform. If you like your life, as is—that’s a gift all by itself! Or perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed by work or school [For example, my research project is due at the end of this semester], and all you can do is just keep on keeping on, that’s ok, too. Resolutions are for you, and for you alone, so if you won’t enjoy the challenge, you’re allowed to say “no, thank you” to New Year’s resolutions.

2. You don’t need to submit your resolution for approval

Often times people feel their resolutions need to be big enough to qualify as a New Year’s Resolution. There can be pressure to make a big change like losing a lot of weight or kicking a stubborn habit [any nail biters out there?], but resolutions are not a go big or don’t bother getting off the couch kind of thing. They’re about motivating you to make a change that will improve your life. That change can be as small as walking for 10 minutes on your lunch break or giving up one of your Saturdays to do an activity you’ve been putting off for a while. If you’re one of those people that worries your resolution is “too small” or “doesn’t count” let me, be the first to assure you there is not a self-improvement primary election in which you need to qualify in order to get on the ballet for betterment. It’s a democracy of one, and your vote is the only one that matters.

3. Resolutions are non-binary

Somethings are yes or no, to be or not to be like McDonald’s breakfast [10:30 sharp BTW] or binary code however most things, including New Year’s Resolutions are not. I often hear friends say “oh, I’ll never be able to do it, so why try?” or “I slipped up on Wednesday, so I guess I failed.” Resolutions are not check boxes on a form. It is not either do or do not [Sorry Yoda], trying still counts! The process of setting a New Year’s Resolution is all about the resolve. If you want to quit drinking soda with your lunch, but you’ve had a really stressful day and you could use a pick-me-up, its ok that you “cheated” today. Resolve doesn’t mean, “Opps—now I failed. It means “Opps—I slipped, but I’m getting back on the path.” In case you haven’t heard it enough: We’re in the middle of a pandemic, cut yourself some slack! The only real failed resolutions are the ones which you abandon. Additionally, its ok to take a break on your resolution if your schedule won’t accommodate five gym visits this week, or if you’re going over to a friend’s house and you know they are serving pizza for dinner—as long as you come back to the plan. Just make sure you and hit the play button again, after your pause your resolution, and it most certainly still counts!

As we head into a new year its important to take stock of ourselves and our lives. It is important to evaluate what’s working and what needs a little work, but what’s working needs just as much attention as what’s not. New Years Resolutions are a great tool to help you build the life you want to have, but it’s important to pick the best tool for the job, and you certainly need to calibrate the tool to the task. So, whether you opt into new year’s resolutions or opt out this time around; Happy Winter Break and have a happy New Year!

Christmas in July? Or July in December?

This post was written by current student Stephen Thompson.
———————————————————————————–
While hanging up Christmas lights this week, I had a thought. I was dressed in flip flops and a t-shirt, which made it easier to navigate the small forest of potted plants which dominate my fiancée and I’s first-floor apartment patio. One of our retired neighbors stopped by to talk with us while we strung lights in the outline of our storage closet door frame. My neighbor, Tom, talked about fishing, holiday travel plans, and the weather—really, he talked about the weather’s effects on the first two. “Climate change is real,” he concluded. That’s a statement I’ve heard frequently over the last couple of years. My thought: what responsibility do public servants have to be caretakers of citizens verses faithful bidders of the people’s will?

My neighbor Tom is an intelligent, wise, 81-year-old man. Like many people in this county, he’s a skeptical, seeing is believing kind of person. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. After a couple of trips around the block myself, I tend toward the “show me the money” side of the spectrum. The trouble with the type of proof which is in the pudding, however, is that you need to eat the pudding to see the truth. This brings me to a crucial question about representative democracy (the flavor of democracy the United States features). Is my representative’s responsibility to vote on legislation in congress as I would vote or as I should vote? Of course, the ideal manifestation of representative democracy is that those two are the same, however people and societies are far more complex than School House Rock ever led us to believe (“I’m just a bill [which could have dramatic effects on the lively hoods, personal safety, and liberties of millions of people across this county] on Capitol Hill).

One interpretation of our governing system might suggest that our representatives’ job is to be more educated and steeped in policy implications than the average American has time to be. We voted them into to office, to make decisions on our behalf, because we don’t have the time or resources to educate ourselves about those decisions. This is certainly the approach we take regarding the executive branch. The president and west wing staff make hundreds of decisions a day in our steads. We elect the president and grant them our nation’s proxy vote. On the other hand, isn’t congress supposed to check the executive branch’s power? Shouldn’t congress be the will of the people, in light of the assumption that the president is the “spirit” of the people? Many state and federal legislators take that view. It is the job of the politician to vote as each of their constituents would on any given issue. Some politicians, though, take this charge to mean they should educate their constituency. That is, their voters would choose this option, if they were privy to the information those representatives are.

Bringing this back to my conversation with Tom, I wonder if the public servants of the 80s, 90s, 2000s, and 2010s let us, the people, down with their collective resistance to ecological policy over the decades. Ruling out super-packs, corporate donors, and other controversial applications of our representative democracy, if we assume that federal and state legislators have acted purely as we citizens have directed them, is that how it should work?

As I’m starting my second year of the MPA program, these are the types of questions I’m pondering, and exploring. How does one equably apply democracy? We know the letters of the laws which govern representation, but what is the spirit of those laws? My fiancée and I finished up our conversation with Tom and plugged in our lights. It is unseasonably warm for December, but the lights bring a festive spirit to the patio. There are some big questions with which public servants have to wrestle, but for now, let’s look forward to a brighter new year.

Tiny Homes for Raleigh, Giant Leap for Local Government

This post was written by current MPA student Stephen Thompson


Tiny homes coming to Raleigh, NC

If you’re like me, you have only a cursory understanding of “tiny houses,” –the somewhat recent trend in single family dwelling construction which features structures of about 600 square footage or less. This movement has been sweeping the first world by storm for the past decade and it’s hard to have not encountered the term at least once via conversation, real estate focused television programs, or obnoxious magazine covers in the supermarket. I’ve primarily seen it discussed on TLC-style reality TV shows which focus on younger couples looking to downsize their consumer-centric lifestyles and “get back the basics.” Noble as that motivation is, it has always felt very bourgeoisie to me. Just the notion of, [read in a posh Northeastern accent] “I’ve had so much access to stuff in my life that I’m just tired of buying things, so I’ve chosen to purposefully not buy as many things, because that will make me a better person.” In spite of my cultural objections, the city of Raleigh did something recently which made me see tiny houses in a different light.

This week the city council of Raleigh, NC unanimously approved the use of “tiny homes” within city limits, a building regulation not often approved by cities. As an MPA student, this piqued my interest. The city council is promoting tiny houses as an affordable option in the midst of the triangle-area housing crisis, which has many first-time home buyers priced out, and those who can afford the inflated prices having to put in offers on homes sight-unseen, due to sky rocketing demand. Even before the pandemic the tri-city area was listed as one of the most expensive markets in the county. Since the Covid scourge, it’s not uncommon to hear about houses selling before they even get to their first open house event. Reporting on the council’s decision, WRAL noted that a new construction tiny house with 300 square feet in the Raleigh area can sell for as little as $65,000—water and electric hook ups included. With this new zoning regulation going into effect in 90 days, this one council vote is poised to have a big impact on the economics of local homeownership. I have to say, this application of a modern trend sounds like something that can really make a difference in this area.

Land and home ownership is often the first way families can acquire and build generational wealth in this county and with so many young families being priced out by the pandemic-boom, this is beginning to become a serious threat to millennials and Gen Z’ers wealth acquisition. In regard to the long levity of a city or community, drops in homeownership—frequently the most valuable asset upon which residents pay property taxes, means less money for municipal budgets and public services. Meanwhile, less generational wealth results in more folks using the aforementioned underfunded public services. To subvert a common expression, a falling tide strands all ships. The city council are wise to take note of this problem down the road and take “tiny” steps [excuse the pun] to fix it early.

Public servants in the 21st century are faced with new and unique problems markedly different from those of previous generations. To address these new situations, we have to use new tools. I applaud the Raleigh city council’s out-of-the-box approach to this public issue, and I look forward to seeing if this lets a little air out of the ballooning housing market bubble. I’m going to be in the market for a house in a few years and who knows, maybe a tiny house could make a perfect starter tiny home.

Tax Exempt Churches and the Competing Values of Public Service

This post was written by current MPA student Stephen Thompson


Keeping up with the local news is something that’s always been important to me, and my time in the MPA program has only solidified that commitment.  The values and concepts in the program are helping me to see the news within my community through different lens and from new perspectives.  Using concepts taught in the program such as the competing values of public service and the public private dichotomy, I’m starting to ponder questions, which I hadn’t considered before.  For example: 

There is a new church opening on the northside of downtown Durham this winter called Pioneer Church.  Taking a somewhat unique approach to sanctuary this church will function as a community space/store/coffee shop during the week and transform its storefront area to a place of worship on the weekends.  This new organization is getting a lot of attention for its choice of “up and coming” neighborhood, and its stance on LGBTQ+ rights (Indyweek released a very informative article last week HERE).  The church has announced that the storefront portion of the business will be separate from the religious organization, and only the church will be tax free (presumably responding to community grumblings) but this actually raises a recurring, but still very important question for public servants: Should churches still be tax-exempt in 2021? 

Public Service is a multi-faceted discipline (just ask Dr. Stenberg, shoutout to PUBA 709) but one of the basic concepts is that of the competing values of Liberty, Community, Prosperity, and Equality.  These values are two sets of diametrically opposed values which are fundamental frames through which public issues are viewed.  Liberty—freedom, choice, and individuality; Community—safety, security, and social order; Prosperity—Efficiency, Economy, and productivity and Equality—equity, fairness, and justice.  These competing values exist on opposite ends of two spectrums.  The further you move toward community, the further you move away from Liberty.  The more regulation that is put in place to protect equality, the less prosperity (on an individual level) is felt.  Any given public issue does not necessarily engage all four values; however, every public issue does involve at least two opposing values.  Whether its speed limits on highways, or food safety regulations on prepackaged food, these values are battled out from small, townhall meetings to the floor of the capital building in Washington, DC.  

The question of whether or not churches should be given tax-exempt status, actually touches on all four of these competing values.  At one end you have the equality aspect.  This country was founded on and continues to defend religious freedom, and separation of church and state.  Therefore, if you give one church/religious order tax exempt status, you have to give it to all churches.  If you turn the other check though, church coffers represent an enormous amount of untaxed revenue which could be quite prosperous for American citizens though public services.  Certainly, no member of any church wants Uncle Sam to skim off a portion of their sacred offering/donation, however collectively speaking this is a large source of income which is off limits to state and federal governments.  This “godsend” (so to speak) could be used to fund public services enjoyed by members of all faiths (or even non-practicing individuals all together).  Looking at it from the secondary perspective, individuals do have the right to worship how and wherever they please in this county.  That’s a God-given liberty (I’m full of puns), but with so many forms and denominations of religion in this country, perhaps social order might dictate that since no one church has special privileges over others, maybe no churches shouldn’t get special privileges, at all. 

I’m not necessarily arguing that churches shouldn’t receive tax-exemptions; many of them do contribute to the public good by funding homeless services or operating food pantries, etc.  After all, secular nonprofit organization such as the Arts Council I work for are afforded tax-exemption for the public good they serve.  These are examples of the public-private dichotomy, organizations which are privately run but provide services which support the public good.  Regardless of the conclusions, I do think that decisions for and by the public should be reconsidered every few years.  As citizens, we have a duty of conservatorship of our county, and routinely checking in on our traditions and long running practices is a chore we often forget.  Our law books are bloated with outdated codes, and long since irrelevant laws, however many of these wouldn’t have the significant effects on public services which reconsidering the tax-exempt status of churches would on our communities, both locally and nationally.  So, whether it’s a new spot in the neighborhood, or mega church in the Midwest, it’s worth a discussion about how we as a community of citizens want to allocation our limited resources.  Not a sermon, just thought (from an MPA student).  

Student Spotlight: Mallory Verez

This post was written by current MPA student Stephen Thompson.

Current student Stephen Thompson interviews current student Mallory Verez


In my last post I started to explore one of the unique things about MPA students; that we’re all so diverse, but with some very strong through lines. Continuing down the rabbit hole, I had the pleasure of talking with 2nd year, dual degree (MPA and Law) student Mallory Verez. I’ll have to get around talking with another MPA@UNCer (online student) one of these days, but this week I was thrilled to talk to Mallory about why she chose the MPA program, how public administration fits into a law degree (or the other way around), and how to get past the devil that lurks in the details.  

Mallory is originally from Pittsburgh, PA, but completed her undergrade degree at High Point University in December of 2017. After graduation she returned to the Steel City, eager for some real-world experience, which she found in a service year position with Public Allies where she was placed in an afterschool program focused on youth development. Mallory had finished her undergrad degree knowing that she wanted to continue her studies with the eventual goal of working in neighborhood legal services, but her experiences in the afterschool programs widened her perspective and inspired her to look for a public administration program, as well. Much like Valerie Sauer (see my previous blog post), Mallory began to see the siloed systems of public service worked more as barriers than channels for underserved demographics. After her year was up, she decided to look for a dual degree program.  

Looking for a dual master’s programs in public administration and law certainly narrowed the pool of schools, but after some research Mallory found herself enrolled in UNC. She acknowledged that her aunt used to work for UNC when Mallory was growing up, so she had some familiarity with the area and the school from family visits. But, as any grad student will tell you, after finding the program and getting accepted, the real work begins. Mallory and I commiserated over the loss of our once delightfully open evening schedules, now filled with readings, papers, and classes. Still, in that conversation I found another common thread with her and Valerie, as Mallory talked about the community of the MPA program and dedication of the School of Government faculty.  

Mallory is a full time, on campus student, so her program is divided into four years; a year of the MPA program, two years of the Law program, and the final year with a mixture of MPA and Law classes. In the fall of 2020, amidst a global pandemic, Mallory moved to Chapel Hill and started as a first year MPA student. She relayed the general air of uncertainty which permeated the campus that first semester, but more than that she felt an overwhelming sense of community and understanding which her professors extended to her and her fellow cohort members. “Dr. Berner’s willingness to talk to me about,” she paused, “anything!” and be “someone who was in my corner the whole time,” was really a lifeline. Mallory confessed that she was glad she started with the MPA program, because the Law cohort is much larger, and there are more students to contend with for professor attention.   

Last summer Mallory completed her Professional Work Experience (a requirement and rite of passage for us MPA students), at the Triangle J Council of Government, as the housing intern, where she “did lots of legal research,” as she put it. Research heavy as it was, the experience also introduced her to the wide range of nonprofits in the Triangle Area. She’s even planning on sticking around the area after she graduates to gain more experience at the myriad of interesting and distinctive nonprofits in our area.  

As our conversation drew to an end, I asked Mallory if she had any advice for prospective MPA students (as I am wont to do), and she had some sage advice: “Know why you want to be doing [the program]. It is so easy to get lost in the complexities. Don’t let [all the details] pull you [away] from what you want to do.” I have to say, if I had to distill down the message of the MPA program into one sentence, that about hits the nail on the head. Know why you want to be doing what you’re doing. As I wrap up my 3rd semester in the program, through the details of the course work, and field specific knowledge I’m gaining, I’m starting to see this greater message. The complexities of public administration (of which there are many!) can easily become tree after tree, after tree, which prevents us public servants from seeing the greater forest of our efforts, however I think I’m starting to learn how to navigate this jungle of policy. And with that piece of wisdom from Mallory, I’ll sign off for this week. Remember to keep it all in focus, and drink plenty of water—after all, finals are coming up!  

MPA Student Spotlight: Valerie Sauer

This post was written by current MPA Student Stephen Thomson.

———————————————————————————————–

Current MPA student Stephen Thomson interviewing current MPA/MSW student Valerie Sauer.

This is my 3rd semester at UNC and at this point I’ve started to notice something really interesting about the MPA program. There are so many diverse individuals, with different career trajectories, but somehow, we’re also so similar. To further understand this paradox, I decided to sit down with a couple of fellow MPA students to explore how our diversity ties us together. This week I got to talk with first year (first semester, even!), Valerie Sauer, currently the one and only MPA/MSW dual graduate degree student at UNC.  

Valerie attended Appalachian State University before transferring to UNC and earning her undergraduate degree in Political Science, with a double minor in Public Policy and Hispanic Studies in 2016. Building on her internship and volunteer experience in social services, Valerie began working as a client services coordinator for the Family Justice Center in Alamance County, NC. In that role she worked directly with individuals seeking help for a wide range of situations from domestic abuse to human sex trafficking—Valerie handled the walk-in client. The first center of its kind in North Carolina, the Family Justice Center serves as a “one stop shop” for the myriad of government organizations individuals need to interact with to obtain help with their situation. After a year and a half there, Valerie was offered the Director of Education Programs position with the Compass Center in Chapel Hill, where she split her time between direct client work and community education. Valerie said she loved this work, but after several years of working with clients “interacting with systems that didn’t serve them” she felt moved to be part of systemic changes in the social services field—And with that, she turned to her alma mater, UNC.  

Valerie’s mother and father both work in Public Administration, and from an early age Valerie was drawn to helping people in need, first in her home of Scotland County, NC and then as an undergraduate student interning with the Compass Center (the same one she returned to work at in 2018), and the Police Department. Over the years she interacted and helped a lot of individuals struggling with domestic abuse. She also saw a broken system which was not designed from a victim’s perspective and often became burdensome to individuals already down and out. Valerie’s direct client work at the Family Justice Center and the Compass Center afforded her valuable knowledge about the ins and outs of social justice in North Carolina, but as the Director of Education Program she gained a whole new perspective.  

At the Compass Center Valerie went out and talked with community members, everyone from middle and high school students to police officers and medical students. She went to schools to talk to youth about healthy relationships and to meet with professional to tell them about the programs available at the Compass Center. This new role of indirect or pre-victim service helped her to see the system within which she worked and understand that while “individuals in these systems wanted to help… the system wasn’t designed to help [the victimized] individuals.” As she told me this paused. Mid-hand gesture and poignantly said, “and that’s why I’m here.”   

I asked Valerie about the transition from full time employment to full time, on campus student and she acknowledged the shift in cultures. For example, Social Services professionals have been talking about equity and social justice for a while, but some of her public administration colleagues are new to the conversation. She added that one of the things she enjoys so much about the MPA program is the smaller class size, which has allowed those tough conversations to be more impactful. As a dual student Valerie will be on campus, full time for three years. This first year is as an MPA student, the second year will be a Social Work student. She said she’s glad her first year is in the MPA program, because her cohort has really helped with the emotional transition.  

As our conversation drew to a close, I couldn’t help but ask Valerie about her mother, Lydian Altman, teaching professor for the School of Government and about her family’s history of public service. Valerie laughed and we joked about how her enrollment in the program might look like nepotism, but given Valerie’s impressive resume and professional drive, it would be hard to suggest she wasn’t in the program on her own merit and on her own path. Waxing retrospectively, she said she understands her parents much better know, and shared that she has already begun to see that the values she was taught growing up and those held dearly by public administrators. 

Reflecting on our conversation, there something which Valerie said which I think cuts to the core of our conversation. “It’s the people who really make the difference for me,” she said while talking about the School of Government’s facility. And while, yes, we do have great faculty, I feel like that sentiment translates to what’s different about the comradery in this MPA program. I also feel like that sentiment sums up my personal motivations for enrolling in this program. Maybe it’s a common feeling among students studying Public Administration, but for me it’s the people who really make the difference. 

UNC MPA Alumni Spotlight: Lyman Collins, Arts Evangelist, Class of 1986,

This post was written by Stephen Thompson, MPA Current Student


In 1986, Lyman Collins was finishing his Master of Public Administration degree from UNC. In 1986, I was but a twinkle in my mother’s eye. In the years that followed Lyman would go on to work in and for the arts at nationally recognized schools such as the University of Virginia, Western Illinois University, and UNC-Greensboro. I, myself would go on to be born, eventually learning to walk and talk. In August of this year I was introduced to Lyman through my UNC mentor (another MPA alum); Lyman was my mentor’s mentor. I was excited to talk with my grand-mentor about how the MPA program shaped his approach to public administration, how he’s seen the program evolve over the years, and what advice he has for scrappy young 1st years like myself. Ever an insightful figure, Lyman shed some light on how connections are made in the public sector, emphasized that hard data is what wins over public officials, and to always keep an eye out for opportunities.

What drew you to want to be a mentor/what keeps you coming back?

When I entered the MPA program (back in the stone age….) I was the only one in my class looking for a career in the arts – and, while the faculty was supportive of my direction, it was a rare one. Serendipitously, the NC Center for Public Policy Research was focusing on arts policy in state government and had a graduate assistantship opportunity available. I wrote three articles for their publication NC Arts Insight: “The North Carolina Arts Council”, “Baskets & Ballet: Making Arts Policy in North Carolina” and “Federal Budget Cuts to Culture: How Keen the Axe?”. A few years later an MPA student reached out to me as she had used info from the articles in her research. It was great to know there were others in the program with a goal of arts administration. Since then, as there have been more and more such students, I have been happy to provide perspectives and encouragement. I firmly believe the arts to be an important part of government services at all levels and am glad to continue to help graduates spread that message.

How have you seen the program change over the years?

The most obvious change, of course, was going to a full two-year curriculum. […] It does seem like the program is broader now and accommodates more and more students who are not necessarily looking to just become city managers.

What trends do you see continuing in the future for Arts Advocacy/Public Admin?

Overall, I have seen more and more municipal governments come to understand the role the arts can play as part of expected levels of service. More and more you can see that parks and recreation departments have added “cultural resources” (or something similar) to their titles. Or sometimes cities have established stand-alone cultural services departments. Also, it has become much more common for there to be a wider array of government grants (at all levels) available to support cultural programs.

One of the most visible trends has been the growing number of public art programs across the country. This aspect has become more and more associated with good planning and effective ways to create a sense of place. In some places (Cary is one example) having a municipal public art program has encouraged private developers to incorporate public art pieces into their developments. Probably the most publicized trend is the emphasis on the arts as an engine of economic development. … [T]he most recent [American’s For The Arts] survey … was released in 2016 and showed that for North Carolina the non-profit arts industry employed almost 72,000 people with a total spending of $2.1 billion which generated almost $107,000,000 in state government revenue and an additional $94,500,000 in local government revenue. Obviously, the pandemic has had an effect […] but I think it is safe to say that the arts will be back as an important economic driver.

What is some advice you’d give current MPA students looking to get into arts advocacy?

Make sure to understand the growing role the arts are continuing to play in local government. Be prepared to articulate how the arts really are a vital (and increasingly expected) part of governmental responsibilities. To that end, make sure to do the research with arts professionals and artists in your communities. Also understand the national picture – and Americans for the Arts is an excellent resource in that regard: www.americansforthearts.org

What is your next personal/professional goal for 2022?

Upon my retirement, I acquired the moniker “arts evangelist” which is an apt description of how I hope my post-career career pans out. I have always believed in the inherent power of the arts and have been exploring projects to keep my focus on spreading this gospel. To that end I have continued to be involved in a variety of arts related activities and organizations and use that involvement to help others find their voices. I hope I can continue to be a resource for young professionals and others looking to keep motivated in their careers. My most recent examples include service on the board of directors for Triangle ArtWorks, service on the planning committee for Arts North Carolina’s Arts Day next March and volunteer coordinator of the North Carolina Presenters Consortium’s Art Market in November.

Hispanic Heritage Month – Educating Myself on its Evolution

September 15th is the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, a 30-day period which runs from September to October. If you’re like me, you may have been vaguely aware of this cultural celebration, but relatively uneducated on its history and significance to both Latinx communities and the greater community of the United States. Let me take this moment to self-identify as a cis, white, straight, male (this is surprising to no one). As such, I decided to educate myself about this cultural celebration, and upon earning my PhD from Google I wanted to share a couple of the broader points.  

First and foremost: why does this “month” span two half months? Well, that’s actually kind of a long story…

In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson (career highlights include: the Voting Rights Act of 1965, creating Medicare and Medicaid, and being played by Brian Cranston in an HBO movie) created Hispanic Heritage Week to honor the cultures and contributions of the Hispanic people. He selected the week which included September 15th because Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua all celebrate their independence from Spain on this date, in addition to Mexico and Chile’s independence days, Sept 16th and 18th respectively. This heritage week would go on to become a month two decades later when President Ronald Reagan signed it into law on Aug. 17th, 1988.  

HOWEVER, let’s give credit where credit is due; the idea of making the heritage week into a heritage month was first proposed by California Representative Esteban Torres (we Stephens have to stick together). Unfortunately, Representative Torres’ initial bill failed to garner support, but the idea did stick around long enough to be added to another bill which was the one that Reagan signed into law.  

So now we have National Hispanic Heritage Month, but some people call it Latinx Heritage Month. What’s the difference between Hispanic and Latino/Latina/Latinx?  

The term Hispanic dates back to the 16th century and holds two common definitions. According to Merriam Webster: 1) of, relating to, or being a person of Latin American descent and especially of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin living in the U.S. 2) of or relating to the people, speech, or culture of Spain. Was that an “ah-ha!” moment for you? It was for me. In the later part of the 20th century Americans began using the term Hispanic to distinguish peoples from Central and South America from people living in the Central (or Mid-Western) and Southern United States, however the term “Hispanic” literally referred to people and cultures which trace their lineage back to Spain. Given the problematic and violent historical relationship between indigenous peoples in Central and South America and Spanish Conquistadors, it’s not hard to understand why folks proud of their heritage would reject this term in favor of the geographically oriented term “Latin.”   

Short questions have long answers, huh? Well, there’s one more part…  

Historically, the word “Latino” has been used to generally reference peoples living in and tracing their cultures and lineages back to Central and South America, however the ending “o” is the masculine suffix in Spanish, so this literally means “Latin men.” The feminine suffix in Spanish is “a,” hence “Latina” means “Latin women.” This is sort of like how some people use the generic pronoun “he” for a stranger, even though this is incorrect (at least) 51% of the time. So, the term “LatinX” was developed to include all Latin people.      

In short, September 15th – October 15th is a great excuse to support a Latinx-owned business, seek out art from a Latinx individual, or to simply education yourself about the world spins for other people. Thank you for coming on this journey with me. I hope you learned something and learned to consider some things a little differently, I know I did.   

Check out the UNC Carolina Latinx Center’s Event Calendar for some educational and FUN events happening around campus over the next month.  

Getting to know our new student blogger better – hi, again Stephen!

Q:  What has been the most surprising thing about being back in school? 

A: The most surprising thing back at school has been … me! After I finished my undergrad degree, I swore that was the last formal education program I would do. Now 6 years later, I realize I didn’t appreciate the things that higher education offers, such as open-minded discussions, a constant stream of new and exciting stimuli through movies, readings, and class discussions, and the spirit of potential that permeates campus. I recently attended my first on campus class at UNC (online student, hah) in August and I was surprised to realize I really missed that feeling of people and resources set aside just to learn and grow.  

Q: How has your perception about the MPA changed since starting? 

A: I chose the MPA@UNC program because I knew I needed a professional degree, and I wanted a program which would carry weight and respect in my area and field of study. I came into the program knowing this would be hard work, but that it would be a degree worth earning. Since Jan (when I started) I am just starting to learn all the other things UNC offers aside from the rigorous and respected curriculum; the opportunities. With the mentor program, the extracurricular discussion groups, and engaged faculty and staff, I truly am learning that this program is really shaping me and supporting me in my journey to become a better leader.  

Q: What has required the most adjustment since being back in school?  

A: The last time I was in school I worked a couple days a week at a coffee shop, and took a full course load on my days off. This time around I’m working Monday through Friday and taking classes in the evening, so that has been a shift in my scholastic experience. Giving up my personal time in the evenings and some weekend hours has certainly been an adjustment.  

Q: What classes are you enrolled in this Fall?  

A: This semester I’m taking PUBA 710 – Organizational Theory and PUBA 719 Public Administration Analysis and Evaluation 1. Organizational Theory has been interesting because I’ve been able to see how the social mindsets of generations have influenced theories about productivity and it’s giving me a sense of how contemporary generation’s values and mindsets may help me to create the type of work environments they prefer. Analysis and Evaluation has been heavy reading, but I’m really enjoying learning about the academic case study and research process in a formal process. Research has always been an implied skill with other classes, but discussing the process in a formal setting is helping me fill in the cracks for the habits I developed in my undergrad days.   

Q: Do you have a favorite moment of the program so far?  

A: My favorite moment so far, is a bit of a culmination moment. In April a few students put together a meeting with other MPA students interested in pursuing Arts related careers. I was able to attend the conversation, and I reached out to the three students who organized it to thank them for putting it together. In August I attended my first on campus class and when I walked into the room I saw so many students I knew already! There were classmates from the several classes I’ve taken online and even a couple of the student organizers from the Arts Conversation. It was a small thing, but it really solidified my feelings and experiences at UNC so far, and it was a nice way of realizing, this really is where I belong.  

Meet our new student blogger – Stephen Thompson

Stephen Thompson, a current UNC MPA student will be offering his take as he navigates the public service field and public administration coursework.  We look forward to his blog contributions this year.  Meet Stephen!

This post was written by Stephen Thompson.


Hey, everybody!

I’m Stephen Thompson, a 2nd year student in the MPA@UNC program (yup, the mysterious online program!) and this year’s student writer for the MPA Matters Blog. I’m excited to dive in and explore the world of UNC’s MPA program through interviews, spotlights and articles featuring MPA students, alumni, faculty and staff members, and community members around North Carolina who are working in the government and nonprofit companies of today. –But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

I’m a professional musician, turned arts administrator (what independent artist isn’t?), and recent transplant to North Carolina. My origin story has some twists and turns, so buckle up as we go all the way back to 2014.

*Wavey Flashback Sequence*

After finishing my undergraduate degree at George Mason University, in Fairfax, VA I moved to Baltimore, MD to pursue a full-time career as an Alt. Country singer/songwriter.  Living the life of a struggling performer I soon learned that for every 40 minutes you get on stage to wow audience members and soak up the spotlight there were hours upon hours of administrative work. Hours spent booking gigs, making and distributing marketing materials, arranging logistics (like discount hotel rooms and frequent oil changes), not to mention rehearsing (you still have to sound good when you finally get to the show), as well as getting merchandise designed, printed, and ordered. Managing my career was a whole separate job from just being the performer myself! Over the next three years I learned a lot about all aspects of arts administration from how to tell a long story to distract the audience from yet another equipment malfunction, to how to find artist resources through arts councils, nonprofits, and even government grant programs.

By 2017 I found myself feeling very proud of my accomplishments on the artistic/professional front, but also a little bored. I had learned so much and accomplished everything I set out to do, but now it just felt like going through the motions. Seeking some introspective clarity, I took some time off the road and moved back to my hometown. I felt a little like the famed Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan after he became the first person to circumnavigate the globe; I had traveled so far just to end up right back where I started. I began looking for opportunities to try new things and ultimately, I found myself managing a music lessons center in Northern Virginia. Working with the students, teachers, and community members reignited my passion, and I began to work with county arts programs like the Parks and Rec department’s Park Takes Program which offered greatly discounted music, drama, literature, and visual arts classes to adults and children. I also began to work with local and national nonprofits which promoted arts education through fundraising and legislative reform. I found I had a really unique perspective having been a professional artist and also having worked on front line administration.

Well, eventually my fiancé and I decided to move to the triangle area in North Carolina and I started working for a local arts council. As I began to plan out my professional goals, UNC’s MPA program –with its focus on Nonprofit Management, was an obvious choice. In the coming months I’ll tell y’all about my excitement for arts education, my passion for community, and my strong belief that every single person is a creative, we just have to find their medium of expression, but for now I’ll just say: I’m Stephen, its nice to meet you!