Cara Robinson joined the School of Government as the Director of Admissions in 2017. Her career in admissions and recruitment spans 10 years. She has worked with graduate students across many platforms including social work, medicine, and biomedical sciences. She specializes in inclusive, holistic, and diverse admissions planning using meaningful collaborations, technology, and historical data. Robinson earned a BA in psychology and education from Marquette University and an MA in counseling psychology from Adler School of Professional Psychology.
This post was written by current student Rachel Werz.
My name is Rachel Werz and I’m a North Carolinian, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, and most recently a new mom! I’m in my third year of the online format of the MPA program. After getting my undergraduate degree in International Studies from UNC-Charlotte in 2009, I left the country to backpack through Southeast Asia. After 5 months of backpacking, I got a job teaching English in South Korea, and loved it so much I stayed for about 6 years. I then took my teaching skills to the U.S. Peace Corps, where I served as a teacher trainer in Indonesia. It was there that I found my passion for public service and sustainable development. I also met someone who became my mentor and introduced me to the field of public administration, suggesting it would be a good fit for me. She was right!
I applied for the UNC MPA program with my sights set on work at the federal level, in diplomacy or international development. However, as I’m sure has happened to many before me, the incredible MPA faculty’s expertise on local and state government has shifted my interests. As I enter my third and final year in the program, I am most interested in economic and community development. Through some of my volunteer work in Durham, I have gained experience in community development at the grassroots level. So, when looking for a PWE, I wanted to work for an organization that could offer professional experience in the same field. I reached out to Jamie McCall, a UNC MPA Alum, and the VP of Economic Development Policy at Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF). CSBDF provides financial and technical assistance, as well as policy research to small business owners in underserved communities across the state.
I’m now a research fellow for the Western Women’s Business Center (WWBC), which is a project of Carolina Small Business Development Fund. My first month has flown by! The research I am working on aims to identify gaps in the services provided by us and partner organizations to ensure we are meeting the needs of small business owners in Western North Carolina. Our goal is to strengthen the relationship that we have with small business owners and partner organizations by identifying our strengths and areas that need improvement. So far, I’ve really enjoyed the friendliness of everyone at CSBDF and working on the research project with a small team of fellow interns from UNC. I’m looking forward to the weeks ahead as I learn and grow in this internship!
As the summer has wrapped up and I have headed back to school, I have been thinking about everything I did this summer working for the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The most notable project I worked on this summer is DEQ’s Use the Food NC food waste reduction initiative. So far, the organics recycling specialist and I have produced a residential food waste document, we are building a website for the campaign, we are creating a food waste recovery map through ArcGIS Online, and we are continuing to plan our stakeholder event, which will launch the campaign in October. As part of the strategic planning for the campaign, we met with Secretary Biser, and we talked with other southeastern states and national non-profits to discuss how their campaigns have unfolded. It has been such an amazing opportunity to be able to build a campaign from the ground up, and I could not be more excited to continue working with DEQ on this project during the school year.
When I was not helping with the Use the Food NC campaign, I stayed very busy offering support to the rest of the Recycling and Materials Management Section (RMMS). I had a variety of tasks from compiling and analyzing data on local government television recycling programs, which helped project quota setting for the recycling fund that electronic manufactures must contribute to, to helping manage the updated NC Recycling Markets Directory. I am continuing to work on large projects like the Annual College and University Solid Waste and Recycling report and reviewing Local Government Annuals Solid Waste and Recycling reports with the rest of the RMMS team.
Every task I had has helped me better understand the recycling industry and improve skills – including using ArcGIS, Excel, Access, Drupal, etc. Still, my favorite part of the summer was our site visits to businesses, local governments, and non-profits across the state. Overall, I met with 14 different entities who had unique perspectives to share about the industry. These visits often turned into long days driving around the state, but I didn’t mind because I was learning, spending time with my phenomenal co-workers, and seeing North Carolina.
I cannot express how wonderful this PWE experience has been. I’ve learned a lot and met great people. I have certainly used the MPA lens to enhance my experience, understanding the makeup and culture of DEQ through organizational theory and ensuring the pillars of equity, efficiency, efficacy, and economy were applied in every project. I cannot wait to see where the MPA journey takes me next.
——————————————————————————————– These past 10 weeks have gone by incredibly fast. My PWE is already coming to a close, but I feel like I have just found my stride in terms of figuring out my role in the organization and my relationship with my co-workers during these last final moments. There is most likely an abundance of knowledge that I have yet to tap into, but, even in such a short span of time, I have learned a lot by working for this organization.
From Zoom meetings to facilitation trainings, RACE for Equity has been very generous in terms of making sure I had plenty of work to keep me busy. I enjoyed the responsibility of serving as a Project Assistant for several projects, and I liked how the deliverables assigned to me were tailored toward my interests within the organization. For example, during the interview process with RACE for Equity, I mentioned that I was interested in community engagement and development. Due to my interest in community work, RACE for Equity worked with me to develop two deliverables that was related to my interests. One deliverable involved creating a condensed version of the Community Engagement Continuum (CEC), a training material developed by RACE for Equity, and another deliverable included researching best practices for Communities of Practice (CoP).
In addition to those two deliverables, RACE for Equity team members brought me on to help with a variety of other projects, such as creating a plan to transition from Microsoft Teams to Google Workspace and collecting documentation for clients. I appreciate how RACE for Equity tailored the PWE experience to my interests, but also exposed me to a variety of other tasks, topics, and projects that were unfamiliar to me but equally stimulating.
As I reflect on my experience working with RACE for Equity, I would say, overall, I enjoyed the work, but, even more, I enjoyed the people. I would like to use this space to say thank you to all of the RACE for Equity team members who welcomed me into the organization and helped me learn and grow as an individual. It really is a different experience to work alongside co-workers who are passionate about making a difference in the world. RACE for Equity was looking at the big picture, but also cared about the little things as well. For example, RACE for Equity would have a check-in for each meeting. The check-in wasn’t just some quick formality. You could tell that the team was genuinely interested in learning what was going on in the lives of others, and they were honest in terms of how they were truly feeling at that moment. It is that kind of openness that I appreciated. The more I learned about other team members, the more I wanted to work alongside them to do good work. Change takes time, but RACE for Equity has inspired me to remain hopeful and to do my part, to show up each day and chip away at the systemic boundaries that has held us all captive for too long.
As a City of Richmond Mayor’s Fellow, I have had the opportunity to learn the how many of the UNC MPA courses correlate in a government entity. My internship in the Treasurer’s Office, an elected official, has enhanced my connection to various stakeholders. The unique opportunity has allowed me to work with city residents on the phone, in person, and via social media platforms. The ability to work with elected officials, residents, and city public servants has made knowledge of the organizational structure and effective communication key skills to successfully working with stakeholders at multiple levels within the city.
During the internship I have been afforded the opportunity to work on a variety of projects and efforts by the Treasurer’s Office including the Office of Financial Empowerment and Financial Wellness Wednesday. I have also had exposure to internal processes and how various departments interact to provide select services to residents of Richmond. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests process was of particular interest as governments in general are not known for efficient use of time and these requests are time sensitive. Understanding how the departments work together to obtain requested documents and remain in compliance with the required timeframe for a response has been a valuable lesson on developing and maintaining positive work relationships.
The primary focus of my internship is on assisting with the Office of Financial Empowerment through the Office of the City Treasurer. The Office of Financial Empowerment has a mission to “inspire, encourage, and pursue the high possibilities of potential in others through elimination of financial barriers by “Making Options and Resources Easily Accessible” for all. The office does this by incorporating financial coaching services, providing and promoting financial literacy throughout the city, and partnering with City Agencies to improve service to city residents facing poverty and COVID-19 related financial distress. This aspect of my internship has provided me with exposure on the intricacies of developing an idea to an action within the confines of the government. Aligning the needs of the community with the resources allocated to the department. I have been fortunate to see the partnering of multiple departments that have shared interests in the financial status of residents, combine their separate resources to make a larger impact to better the community.
I was able to contribute towards the creation of financial tools that assist residents in learning to create and execute a budget. In addition I am able to create graphics that are aesthetically appealing to the public but also provide information and resources on how to become more financially empowered. These graphics are posted on social media regularly allowing an element of creativity while maintaining a consciousness of targeted audience. I was also able to use my teaching background to support the brainstorming on how to present and teach financial literacy to city residents. This opportunity allowed for my expertise to bring value and make the development thoughtful to the variety of adult learning styles within the city of Richmond.
So far in this internship experience as a City of Richmond Mayor’s Fellow, I have learned the importance of leadership and how it impacts outcomes for city employees and residents. As I progress through this fellowship, relationships has been a reoccurring theme. The building and development of strong relationships with all City Of Richmond stakeholders has been integral in the success of programs across multiple departments. Understanding the organizational structure and respecting that structure is important in acknowledging and building relationships and getting things accomplished. I am excited to continue to acquire knowledge and connections between the UNC MPA program and the reality of local public service.
This post was written by current UNC MPA student Jennifer Taylor-Monteagudo Mora.
———————————————————————————– Hello All!
My name is Jennifer Taylor-Monteagudo Mora. I am from Prince George, Virginia and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2009 with a Bachelors degree in Political Science with a concentration in Government and Public Affairs. Upon graduation I held many jobs due to the economic situation the country was in during that time.
I ultimately found myself teaching in Houston, Texas where my passion to help communities on a local level flourished. In this position I taught elementary reading, writing, and social studies. After one year teaching it was brought to my attention that there was a high level of English language learners in our school that were not properly serviced because many teachers were unable to pass the certification exam for this specialty. I studied over the summer and passed that exam. This proved to be a turning point and where my educational expertise began to focus on immigrant communities and providing quality education to truly diverse communities while respecting and embracing cultural differences.
In this role I was able to represent my school district for large conferences on English Language Acquisition and began my path to educating educators on how to bridge the gaps for students that speak other languages. Fast forward five years and I returned to my home state of Virginia. In Virginia while still teaching I began to work with the English as a Second Language (ESL) department to reach out to parents and inform them on the United States educational system. This is where I began to flourish. I reignited my love for community outreach, combined with my love of education and learning. While my love to work with children and their families still exists, my passion for the community on a more wholistic level was not being completely fulfilled.
I decided to finally apply go back to school to obtain my masters degree. I knew I did not want to get a degree in education. I did not want to limit my community impact to a school or school district, I wanted to improve the community for everyone. I began my MPA at Chapel Hill in Fall 2020. This program was perfect for me, it allowed me to continue to work fulltime and still pursue my educational ambitions. The program has proven to be very interactive even on the virtual platform with amazing classmates and professors that keep that sense of a close community even when people are on different coasts.
I have been afforded this wonderful opportunity to participate in the City of Richmond Mayor’s Fellows Internship as my Professional Work Experience component of the MPA program. In this internship I am working with the City Treasurer on multiple tasks and a project. I am excited about this Professional Work Experience (PWE) as it is a great opportunity to learn new skills and build on the foundation that I have already developed in my career. My mentor is highly energetic and passionate about serving her constituents. I look forward to all of the knowledge she is able to give through this experience. The merging of working with elected officials, the public, and public servants is a perfect mixture of the reality of working in local government and I am excited to embrace the experience.
This post was written by current student Ben Lasley.
This week marks my 7th week at EPA, and the official mid-point of our PWE. In the past seven weeks, I have worked on upcoming proposals for the oil and gas industry, convened with leaders on wood stove testing methods, and assisted in communication and outreach plans for Ethylene Oxide. In addition to regulatory action, I am conducting a program evaluation for OAQPS’ air quality teacher workshop. These projects and other responsibilities have taught me the incredibly important work our public agencies commit to, to protect human health and the environment.
These PWE responsibilities, as well as informational interviews across the agency, have highlighted different possibilities in being focused in one topic area, or assist in interagency coordination. I have appreciated the ability to witness different aspects and assist in various projects covering air quality.
In addition to working at the EPA, it has been inspiring to witness the agency’s dedication to Pride Month awareness and action. The pride flag was raised for the first time at the agency’s headquarters in D.C, and I’ve been able to attend multiple LGBTQIA+ history and health meetings that have highlighted the intersectional fight for justice in our country. Our administrator, Michael Regan, has been emphatic in the agency’s support and advocacy for their employees and all LGBTQIA+ Americans. Yesterday, I was able to sit in an agency-wide meeting with a white house LGBTQIA+ liaison and learn about their efforts to protect LGBTQIA+ rights, especially in the wake of the Dobbs opinion.
EPA Headquarters in D.C. | Photo by Francis Chung/E&E News
One of the greatest parts of the MPA program has been finding comradery in fellow classmates. This past weekend Valerie Sauer, Danielle Badaki, and I visited Andrea Parra-DeLeon in D.C, where she is a pathways intern with the Department of Transportation. It was wonderful to catch up with friends and explore our nation’s capital.
We also saw the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Emancipation Proclamation. It was awe inspiring to bear witness to these historical documents. While we have come a long way over the last two hundred and forty-six years, we still have tremendous work to be done for justice and equity for all people in this country. Those documents and our current state of affairs reminds us that it is ever more pertinent to commit to public service and collectively face our nation’s challenges, to ensure and enshrine our rights to privacy and other enumerated rights.
This post was written by current student Delaney King.
When the spring semester began, I started applying for a wide array of Professional Work Experience opportunities, including several suggested by the UNC MPA program. The program has a relationship with the Recycling and Materials Management Section (RMMS) at the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and helped me apply for a position directly with the section. Although I did not know specifically what RMMS does, I was interested in working on environmental projects for DEQ. I tried to learn as much as I could about RMMS before my interview, but in the end, the most valuable resource was the staff themselves. I asked several questions about the job and work environment to the point where I felt like I was the one interviewing staff. Luckily, they were incredibly open, patient, and kind. In fact, a UNC MPA alumna who graduated two years before helped interview me and explained how I could use my MPA coursework in the position and offered me advice about my final year in the program. A few weeks later, I found out that I received a summer internship along with one of my classmates, Elise Traywick.
During the interview I learned I would help RMMS establish a food waste reduction program, and hearing that, I knew I would love this internship! Growing up in California, these topics were always a part of my life. My family started composting before I was born, and I was fortunate to go through a school system with access to a garden program and ecoliteracy classes. I immediately knew the internship was an amazing opportunity to create something from scratch and have a long-term impact on an issue I’m already interested in!
The primary focus of my internship is to assist the new and wonderful Organics Recycling Specialist create resources for DEQ’s Use the Food NC initiative including informational documents, a social media toolkit, and website. We are also planning a stakeholder meeting for the fall to launch the campaign and receive feedback from passionate stakeholders about how DEQ can best help them reduce food waste. Simultaneously, I am visiting recycling sites across the state with staff to learn more about the field and maintain relationships with businesses, local governments, and non-profit organizations. If that isn’t enough, I am also providing additional support to staff on a variety of projects, like the Recycling Markets Directory, and taking over projects like the annual recycling program survey for colleges and universities. I love to stay busy!
Current UNC MPA student Elisabeth Butler writes about her summer work experience with Race for Equity. You can read her first blog post here.
While conducting my Professional Work Experience (PWE) at RACE for Equity, I was recently introduced to a tool developed by RACE for Equity called the Community Engagement Continuum (CEC). The CEC outlines a process for engaging community members in an equitable manner. The CEC focuses on engagement from a racially aware vantage point, and it incorporates aspects of Results-Based Accountability (RBA) and the Groundwater Approach into its methodology. My task in relation to the CEC is to take the lengthy 44-page document explaining the CEC and boil it down to two pages. The two pages will serve as a more easily understandable and accessible handout for clients or partners who are interested in learning about the CEC.
I find the CEC interesting because I feel that it is trying to shed light on a question a lot of organizations are currently grappling with. How do you engage community members in an equitable manner? For decades, experts and those with resources and power have dictated the course and flow of development, but now there are many who have decided including those who are impacted but such decisions have knowledge and perspectives that should be included in the decision-making process. This idea of giving community members a voice seems easy in theory, but it has proved to be challenging to put into practice. One of my supervisors even noted that most clients who are interested in the CEC are only in the initial stages of the process, few organizations actually are or have made it to the later stages. Even though community engagement is easier in theory than practice, I look forward to seeing how organizations overcome current challenges in creating sustainable and equitable community engagement processes.
In addition to discussing the CEC, I also wanted to bring up my experience of working for a completely remote company. Before I accepted the PWE position with RACE for Equity, I thought a completely remote job was ideal. A remote job would allow you to work from any location and is more flexible in work hours in comparison to a typical 9-to-5 job. This is not a critique of RACE for Equity, but, instead, my own realization that in the future I would prefer an in-person or hybrid job. I enjoy the flexibility offered by RACE for Equity in terms of work hours and location, but I feel a completely remote experience hinders some of the comradery and bonding that occurs in in-person jobs. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy working from the comforts of my home, but it would be nice to see my coworkers in-person now and then. It would be nice to know you at least have the opportunity to stop by your coworker’s office or cubicle to socialize or bug then about an email you had sent earlier in the week. As I search for a job in the future, I will keep this realization of mine in mind.
Overall, I have enjoyed my experience with RACE for Equity so far. RACE for Equity has been very mindful about giving me enough work to meet the MPA hour requirement, and I have been introduced to new concepts that I have found interesting. This PWE experience has zoomed by, but I look forward to finishing up my PWE over the next couple of weeks and taking what I have learned from this experience to future jobs.
This post was written by current MPA student Delaney King.
My name is Delaney King, and I am currently an MPA student an UNC Chapel Hill. Before enrolling in the MPA program, I graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 2020 with a major in Political Science, concentrating in American Politics and Environmental Policy, and a minor in History.
Work experiences in high school and college, like assisting my congressman with veteran and military casework, taught me well-intentioned policies often fail those they are meant to help because of red-tape, inefficient organizations, poor intergovernmental relations, etc. I began to realize that this was less an issue of the policies and more an issue of administration. This realization was underscored, bolded, italicized, and typed in ALL CAPS as I witnessed the disastrous effects poor administration can have on an entire country during the COVID-19 pandemic. My undergraduate studies primarily focused on public policy development and less about how to administer policy or how to avoid poor administration. Then, I graduated during the first stages of the pandemic, and suddenly, I had more questions but no longer a venue to ask them.
When deciding what I wanted to do next, I reflected that I enjoy learning about and working in policy development, but my work could be more impactful by insuring well thought out policies are equally well-implemented. *Cue the MPA program*
I recently completed my first year, and I am confident I already have a far better idea of how organizations can ensure efficient, effective, and equitable service delivery. I am excited to continue learning more next year, but in the meantime, I am gaining real world experience and applying what I learned during my Professional Work Experience (PWE). This summer I am working as a Research and Program Assistant for the Recycling and Materials Management Section at the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Specifically, I am helping create materials and organize a stakeholder meeting to expand DEQ’s food waste reduction efforts. I am beyond excited to work within my field of interest –environmental policy–, learn from individuals with years of experience, and speak with people and institutions who have the capacity to help make a difference.
This post was written by UNC MPA current student Elisabeth Butler. —————————————————————————————- My name is Elisabeth Butler, I am from Charlotte, NC, and I studied environmental science at UNC Chapel Hill for undergrad. In undergrad, I gravitated toward urban planning, and I was particularly interested in transportation and sustainability. However, after taking a couple of planning classes, I wasn’t quite sure if it was the right fit for me. Later on, I learned more about local government, and I decided that the more general Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree better suited my interests than a Master of Urban Planning.
I still decided to work for a year because I wanted to have some time and space to think before I jumped right into graduate school. During the gap year, I discovered that an MPA degree was critical to my entry into local government and overall very helpful to getting a job in the public sector, so I decided to apply for graduate school. I ended up selecting the MPA program at UNC Chapel Hill because I was already familiar with the quality of education provided by the university, and I was impressed by the network of alumni and connections the program had in North Carolina. I am also particularly interested in community engagement, and the program had a variety of courses that would allow me to further explore this particular area of interest.
For my Professional Work Experience (PWE), I am working for a consulting company called RACE for Equity, LLC. The company’s name, RACE for Equity, stands for Results Achieved through Community Engagement for Equity. I decided to conduct my PWE with RACE for Equity because I would like to work in community engagement in the near future. I was also intrigued by the company’s focus on using an equity lens to approach community engagement. I am still fairly new to the world of community engagement, given that my background is in environmental science, so RACE for Equity seemed like a great way to gain experience in my field of interest.
RACE for Equity is a fairly small and completely remote company, so I have been spending a fair amount of time in Zoom meetings and corresponding with my teammates via email. The company’s unique selling point is that it specializes in Results-Based Accountability (RBA), a framework based on data-driven practices. In my mind, RBA attempts to combine systems thinking and performance measurement into one framework. I see the value of RBA, but I have yet to be convinced that this loosely described framework should be considered a best practice in the consulting world.
In addition to the RBA framework, RACE for Equity uses the Groundwater Approach as a foundational theory of practice. The groundwater metaphor is designed to help people internalize and gain awareness of the racially structured society we currently live in. I found the groundwater metaphor as a very helpful and easy to understand metaphor in terms of how racially created structures leads to inequities and injustices along racial divides. I see how the systems thinking component of the RBA framework connects to the groundwater metaphor, but I sometimes wonder if the RBA model is sufficient. I wonder, how do you know if you are truly transforming the groundwater?
So far, I have enjoyed my work at RACE for Equity. I have been assigned to four projects to work on this summer. The first project involves collecting documentation, the second project is about storytelling for maternal health equity, the third project involves expanding upon past training materials, and the fourth project is researching different workspace platforms for the company. I have started working on the first and fourth project and will begin working on the second and third project in June. The RACE for Equity members have been very friendly and welcoming, but the one drawback is that I do not particularly enjoy the completely remote aspect of the job. Overall, I think RACE for Equity is doing good work, and I look forward to learning more about the company as I continue this PWE throughout the rest of this summer.