Public Administration Leadership (PAL) Challenge

2020 Pal Challenge invitation

The Public Administration Leadership (PAL) Challenge was created in 2013 by Master of Public Administration students. The main purpose of the Challenge is to engage UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduates in relevant, community-based issues of public administration in the form of a case study competition for a prize of $1000! Through this competition, the PAL Challenge has three main goals:

  • To educate undergraduates about public administration
  • Allow students opportunities to learn about careers in public administration, practice research and analysis, and writing skills to solve real-world problems
  • To promote the mission of the School of Government and Master of Public Administration programs.

2020 Pal Challenge invitation

This year’s PAL Challenge: 

This year’s case was centered on climate change resulting in flooding that was negatively impacting a small, fictitious town in North Carolina. As we know with our recent hurricanes from last year, floodwaters can destroy homes, infrastructure, agriculture, and threaten drinking water supplies and public health. This leaves local communities and economies reeling from the potentially catastrophic impacts, and local governments are the ones faced with the costs of recovery and clean up after flooding.  This is a current and relevant issue facing local government administrators.

 The teams were asked to research and consider funding options for mitigating factors that local governments can employ, citizen engagement, health and safety impacts, and peer municipalities to limit some of the negative impacts of flooding on this town.

All four Pal Challenge winners after their presentation
All four Pal Challenge winners after their presentation

2020 PAL Challenge Winners:

The 2020 PAL Challenge winners were: The Green Beans! This year’s winning team competed against ten other teams, the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, transitioning to classes from home, and presenting remotely. 

Congratulations to Abi Blanchard, Olivia Huckel, Aakash Thumaty, and Zachary Walker, who are all seniors at UNC-Chapel Hill! They were a team of diverse backgrounds and majors. We are so proud of them! Want to learn more about our winners, check out this interview of the Green Beans Team and Cara Robinson, our MPA Director of Admissions.

Perks of an MPA!

Still trying to decide what type of graduate degree best suits you? Well, here’s a list of FIVE perks of pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree. 

1. Diversity of Students

MPA programs don’t attract a “specific” type of student. There is no clear track to getting to this degree. So that leads to a diversity of experiences and backgrounds that may be interested in this degree. Which also makes for interesting in-person or virtual classroom discussion. 

2. Variety in Coursework

If you are someone like me, I love learning! The great thing about an MPA program is that the coursework is not just about how to run public organizations. We study a variety of subjects ranging from law to human capital management to budgeting to leadership! You are challenged in different ways every day. 

3. Leadership Training

Leadership training was one of my favorite parts of the Carolina MPA program. Since MPA programs are expecting you to transition into the public sector and become leaders, coursework is typically focused on helping you hone that skill. In my experience, the coursework allowed me to reflect on the type of leader I am now and who I want to become in the future. 

4. Unlimited Career Paths

This degree opens doors to multiple leadership and management roles, while doing good. You can have a career in various levels of government, nonprofit, philanthropy, health care, or even a consulting firm. One of the things I am most excited about for graduating with this degree is the endless possibilities for my professional career. 

5. Giving Back

As a public administrator, you get to give back to the community. You get to work towards solving complex problems affecting your neighbors. In my opinion, this is the best perk of all! 

I hope these perks help you decide if an MPA would be a good fit for you! 

If you are contemplating between an MPA and a JD, be sure to check out my two-part series blog here: MPA vs JD Part 1 and MPA vs JD Part 2.

The Census and Data-Driven Decision Making!

With National Census Day (April 1) upon us, I wanted to talk about how important Census responses and data are for public administrators.

picture of a cartoon city

State and local governments, and even nonprofits, can use census data for descriptive analyses to describe the demographic diversity within a jurisdiction or  assessments to understand the communities needs and target program and policy efforts effectively. Governments can use the data to help with planning related to public-policy decision making, including the day-to-day decision-making process. 

Here are some ways that public administrators around you have used Census data: 

  • Reapportionment and Redistricting: Census data can be used to comply and enforce laws related to reapportionment and redistricting. For example, the race question on the Census becomes useful for local governments compliance with and enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. To learn more, check out this information
  • Community Planning and Development: Census data can be used at the city-wide level to prepare and update general plans like land use and housing elements and for infrastructure planning. To learn more, check out this information
  • Social Services: Census data can be used to assess the need of social service programs. For example, Head Start programs are mandated to serve families with the greatest need. Data from the Census Bureau, through the Census or the American Community Survey, are used to certify eligibility for federal and state funding of the Head Start program and to target areas where the program is needed. To learn more, check out this information
  • School Districts: Census data can help school districts develop demographic profiles of the students and community to better understand their educational needs. For example, this can help schools identify the need for bilingual instruction programs and other special services that may be warranted in the schools. To learn more, check out this information
  • New Service Justifications: Similarly to the above statements for schools, nonprofits and local governments can use Census data to create demographic profiles to justify new service provisions. To learn more, check out this information

Census data can serve so many purposes; these were just a few! So please remember to complete your 2020 Census! This has a huge impact on what public administrators will understand about our communities for the next 10 years. 

Complete your 2020 Census online at, by phone at 844-330-2020, or by mail when the physical questionnaire arrives in mid-April. 

Emergency Management and Public Administrators

warning: this post discusses emergencies and coronavirus

Public crises are scary, challenging, and unpredictable. As a student, avid traveler, and daughter of someone severely immunocompromised, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a scary reality that I wasn’t expecting to experience ever in life. As a future public service leader currently working in local government, this experience serves as a unique lesson to learn how much public administrators are involved in emergency management. Emergency management is the coordination of resources and responsibilities to reduce the harmful effects of disasters, hazards, and crises. In times like these, the public relies on public administrators from varying fields and levels to provide accurate information and support as needed. So, in times of emergencies, what exactly do public administrators do? 

Traditionally, emergency management encompasses four main categories: prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. And public administrators are involved in every step along the way. 

  1. Prevention: Prevention is the creation of deliberate steps and strategies to minimize damage. In thinking about any disaster, prevention is KEY! For example, let’s think about a beach town that is prone to hurricanes. Public administrators can establish building code that is intended to prevent damage from the winds of a hurricane. Requiring that all new buildings undergo this inspection will allow for less building damage in the community in the future and less money spent on repairs and cleanup. 
  2. Preparedness: Preparedness is instituting measures designed to enhance awareness and response to crises. Preparedness is a necessary step after prevention. A good example of preparedness would be an in-school tornado or fire drill so that students are aware of the correct response during one of those crises. This can help minimize damage and harm to everyone involved. 
  3. Response: Response is the coordination of resources to minimize the impact of crises. In the case of an emergency, responses are necessary to mitigate the crisis. Given the current pandemic, this is where I see public administration most at work. For example, the institution of travel bans, airport screenings, school closures, and online classes instead of in-person classes are all examples of public administration’s response to coronavirus. This is all an attempt to minimize the possible spread of the virus. 
  4. Recovery: Recovery is the return of the community to normal or near-normal conditions. Even after the crisis is gone, there is still work to be done. Public administrators work towards “business as usual” by providing clean-up and support. An example of recovery is FEMA with home repairs and temporary housing assistance. This is how public administrators work to stabilize a community after a tragedy.

As we move through this time of concern and uncertainty with the coronavirus (COVID-19), we can rest assured that those who took the oath to serve the public are working hard to keep us as safe as possible now and will be prepared to support us as we begin to stabilize.

A special thank you to the public administrators, medical care providers, first responders, grocery store employees, and anyone else who continues working to make sure our communities have what they need as we go through this process together.

What does the fight against the opioid crisis, professional communications, and Carolina MPA all have in common?

If you thought of a  Carolina MPA professor, you guessed it! 

Kody Kinsley ProfileMeet adjunct professor Kody H. Kinsley, who is part of the team pushing to end the opioid crisis in North Carolina AND teaching Carolina MPA online students. He currently serves as the Deputy Secretary for Behavioral Health & Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS). In his current role, Kinsley focuses on state-wide public policy and operations that promote whole-person health for individuals living with mental illness, intellectual or developmental disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, and substance use disorders. (To learn more about Kinsley’s work with NC DHHS, click here). 

In 2016, North Carolina had one of the highest opioid overdose death rates in the nation and was one of the top eight states for fentanyl overdose deaths (North Carolina Health and Human Services Press Release). In response, state and community partners created the NC Opioid Action Plan. As a result of the implementation of the plan, North Carolina saw a decrease in unintentional opioid-related overdose deaths for the first time in five years and a 24 percent decrease in opioid dispensing.

Energy and commerce committee logo

For that reason, Kinsley was invited to testify at the “A Public Health Emergency: State Efforts to Curb the Opioid Crisis ” hearing held by the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on January 14th, 2020. Kinsley was asked to share how North Carolina has used and is using federal funds to promote opioid treatment and recovery efforts. (To learn more about this hearing, click here). 

In addition to his role at the NC Department of Health and Human Services, Kinsely serves as an adjunct professor for the PUBA 721: Professional Communication course in the Carolina MPA online program. He comes to the program with experience serving as the presidentially appointed Assistant Secretary for Management in the United States Department of Treasury, as well as private-sector work. Kinsley brings a unique perspective and plethora of professional communication experience to the Carolina MPA program and its students. We are lucky to have him! 

Welcome January 2020 Online Cohort!

Hello everyone!

Happy New Year & welcome back to the school year!

I am not sure about y’all, but the MPA program is super excited to begin this semester. Want to know why? Well…it’s because we have NEW students! We want to extend a huge congratulations and WELCOME to our January 2020 online cohort!!! This group comes to us with an interesting background and diverse perspectives. Here are some cool things to know about our new students


We have quite the group starting this January in our online program. Demographically, our new students are coming to our program from Minnesota, Alaska, California, Florida, New Jersey, and more! See below to see exactly which states and how many students.

Visual of USA map with NC, California, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, New Jersey, Minnesota, Ohio and Alaska highlighted as states where our online students are coming from this January.
Highlighted states with corresponding number of students coming into our 2020 January Online Cohort.

And as far as the gender-binary goes, we have almost an even 50-50 split; This cohort has 11 female students and 10 male students! The cohort’s average is 34 years old, which shows that they are bringing their own wealth of knowledge and experience into the program!


Speaking of experience…this cohort has an average of 10+ years of working four of the incoming students utilized the local government employee tuition match scholarshipexperience! Four of the new students utilized our new local government employee tuition match scholarship! Of those four, two were firefighters, one was the head of a local government IT department, and the last one was a town manager. The cohort has two other students with a military background. Also, they have three students transitioning from working in the private sector to working in the public sector. Can you imagine the fruitful conversations that will be happening during their class times?


Given the students’ diversity of experience and location, it is to be expected that they would have diverse interests as well. (And it’s true!) Their interests range from healthcare administration to IT in local government to financial management in state government. We even have one student who is interested in running for office! A long with their personal and career interests, the January 2020 online cohort expressed varying areas of interest in the MPA program. 

bar graph showing 8 students interested in local government, 7 interested in nonprofit management, 4 in state government, and 2 in federal government

The majority of our incoming students expressed interest in local government (8) and nonprofit management (7). However, the cohort also has students interested in state government (4) and federal government (2).

All in all, we are so very happy to welcome our January 2020 online cohort! We can’t wait to see where the MPA takes our new students.

Student Perspective: Smaller Cohort Culture

As a current graduate student, one of my favorite things about this program is the fact that we have such a small cohort. Our cohorts usually range from 20-25 students. These are the students that you will share all of your core classes with. (To see a list of the core courses, click here). Even though our online students don’t typically meet in-person (outside of electing to do the immersion course), the MPA program tries to replicate the small cohort feel by using video conferencing and small class sizes of about 15 people. In my opinion, here are the best parts about having a small cohort. 

  1. You get to know each other really well. Sometimes you spend from 9-5 with the same people for 3 or 4 days at a time. Then you have group assignments or individual papers and create study groups. For online students, you spend your class time with the same people and may utilize zoom after class to create study groups or work on group projects. Spending this extended time together allows you to get to know the members of your cohort pretty well. 
  2. You learn how to communicate and challenge each other in a productive way. Because we spend so much time together, that doesn’t mean we always agree. (Trust me, we don’t – We are human). However, our interactions are so often that we are pushed to learn to be authentic and communicate with each other. It helps us fine tune our communication skills and honor our colleagues in the cohort. This will not only help us as we continue in the program, but also as we move forward into careers. 
  3. You create a tight-knit support system. Grad school is such a big part of your life for 2+ years and these people shared all of that with you. I am thankful to have had my cohort support me through all of the ups and downs. This support system can be helpful during PWE and job searches. (To learn more about PWEs, click here)
  4. We are well-connected! One of the perks of this program is the alumni network. From what I have heard from other alumni, folks remain in contact with each other even after graduation. Additionally, those that choose to work in local government will often attend training at the School of Government. This extended network that is created allows for helping folks get connected, ask for advice, and even search for jobs. 

The perks of the small, personable cohort is one of the main reasons that I was so drawn to this program.

JD vs MPA: Part 2

As an extension of our last post, we wanted to share another perspective with you about pursuing an MPA and/or a JD. As the last part of this series (for now), we want to introduce you to Lori Gershon. Lori is in her first year of the MPA program. She was a practicing attorney for 22 years, focused on child welfare. Lori was actively appearing in court and trying cases up until the time she began the MPA program. Check out Lori’s perspective on the JD and the MPA.

Photo of Lori Gershon, JD and MPA Candidate 2021
Lori Gershon, JD and MPA Candidate 2021

Why did you choose law?

Lori: ​I always wanted to help people, especially vulnerable populations (kids, elderly, victims of domestic violence) and I thought using the law would be a powerful tool to achieve that goal. My seventh grade English teacher planted the initial seed, even though in retrospect it was probably because I was argumentative.

What made you decide to pursue an MPA? 

Lori: At this point in my career, I was looking for a leadership and management position. I want to take the years of experience in the community and in the courtroom and apply them on a larger scale. But, I needed to learn management and administration skills which is why I applied to the MPA program.

What is law school like vs the MPA program? 

Lori: Law school is its own creature. It focuses on teaching you a new way of thinking and solving problems. It is more rigid than the MPA program. The MPA program teaches through creativity and theory, and not through rules and precedent. Both are valuable means of solving a problem, but they are very different.

What do you hope to do with your MPA degree after graduation? 

Lori: ​I hope to continue to serve the public in local government.

If you could do it all over again, would you still get your JD? 

Lori: ​Absolutely! I have enjoyed being a lawyer and have gained valuable analytical skills that serve me. I have had the privilege of helping children and families achieve justice and have played a role in ensuring a fair system.

Any advice for someone contemplating between a JD and an MPA? 

Lori: ​I would recommend highly getting both a JD and MPA. If someone would like to work in the courtroom and in a law firm first, I would advise getting the JD first and taking time to work to get the most courtroom/real life experience, and then take time off to get the MPA. If someone knows that they prefer to go directly into management and bypass the courtroom/in the trenches experience, then I would recommend a dual degree program to receive the JD and MPA in a combined course of study. 

Thanks, Lori! We hope that these two perspectives were helpful in helping you choose between MPA and JD or pursuing both! 

JD vs MPA: Part 1

The MPA program recruits students with varied academic interests and backgrounds. One of these academic areas is law. We meet students who started law school and decided it wasn’t for them. We hear from people who thought they wanted to go to law school until they found us. And then we see people in our program who actually completed law school, worked for a couple of years, and then came back for the MPA. Currently, we have at least 5 students with JD’s in our program, and a number of alumni who have a JD and MPA.

This will be a two-part series independently featuring two of our resident JDs. This post will feature, Richard Carey. Rich is currently in his second year of the MPA program. Rich served as a litigator for 7 years in Chicago. His focus was on commercial litigation. His main line of work was representing construction companies who did not get paid for their work. Check out Rich’s perspective on the JD and the MPA.

Photo of Richard Carey
Photo of Richard Carey, JD and MPA Candidate 2020

Why did you choose law?

Rich: I went to law school because, at the time, the market for lawyers seemed very robust. Additionally, I went to law school because it was a career I was familiar with and I did not know about the many other options for graduate education when I graduated from undergrad. Getting either a JD or MBA seemed like my only option after coming out of undergrad and, frankly, I did not consider anything else. On a purely academic front, studying law appealed to me because it combines many of my favorite subjects. Law has connections to economics, history, and political science. The amalgamation of those topics was what I really liked about it.

What made you decide to pursue an MPA? 

Rich: The practice of law is very different from what, I think, most people think it is. It is not like Law & Order or any other show/movie. Lawyers spend a great deal of time working alone, they spend a great deal of time working to find more work and clients, and they spend a great deal of time working on things that are not the practice of law. None of this appealed to me. I decided I needed an MPA to get back to my life’s goal of helping others as part of a community, and to work collaboratively with others to solve complex problems.

What is law school like vs the MPA program? 

Rich: Law school is incredibly competitive and by its very nature, zero-sum. If you get an A in a class that means someone else got a B because of strict rules regarding grading curves. That makes it seem more like a competition and less like a journey towards learning. Graduating in the top 25% of your law school class literally decides your career for the next 30 years, so the pressure is intense. The MPA program is far more collegial and welcoming. Professors know your name, and they reach out to you as a student. Law school classes can have 100 people in them, no MPA class at UNC-Chapel Hill has more than 25 and many electives have less than 10.

What do you hope to do with your MPA degree after graduation? 

Rich: I want to work for a small- or medium-sized local government in the manager’s office as a policy analyst or budget professional. My end goal would be to work as a city/town manager for a community of 10,000 people or under.

If you could do it all over again, would you still get your JD? 

Rich: With perfect hindsight, I would have made several different changes. I think if I could have done it all over, I would have tried to do a JD/MPA joint degree at Northern Illinois University. If I had known what I know now about what the practice of law really entailed, I would have tried for a career as Town/City Attorney. I am very proud that I got through law school, passed the bar exam, and did some very good work for my clients. That being said, if I had picked the right graduate program for me back in 2005, it means I could have 12 years’ experience in local government work. But also my current path brought me to meeting my wife, my cohort, and a nice house in Chapel Hill, so I don’t know if I would change that if I could. 

Any advice for someone contemplating between a JD and an MPA? 

Rich: I would encourage anyone who wants to go to law school to spend a day or two with someone who is actually practicing law. And not a senior person, someone a year or two out of law school. And not on a special day where they are on trial or something, a regular Tuesday. People applying to law school need to know that it could be years (or a decade) before you have your own clients, before you can choose which cases you work on, and even when those  two are true, you are going to be spending the majority of your time working on things that are not legal-related. You will be looking for clients, helping to run a law firm, and chasing down clients who owe you money. Ten years out of a UNC-Chapel Hill MPA program, you could be the city manager of fairy large municipality.

The MPA offers a bunch of advantages for the right person. It is a two-year degree instead of three. They are usually cheaper than law school, especially private law schools. You will start helping your community while you are in graduate school through research and coursework. When you graduate you will be ready to start helping in your community immediately and you will find that there are plenty of employers looking to hire you. You will be working on actual policy for actual people right away!

Thanks, Rich for providing that insight! Be on the lookout for next’s responses from Lori, our other resident JD who is in her first year of the program. 

Navigating Competing Values in Public Service

Given the recent challenges across the United States with confederate statues, building names, and town names, public service leaders are charged with listening and navigating highly emotional and challenging spaces to best serve the public. In Chapel Hill, there were challenges with Silent Sam on campus. Silent Sam is a confederate statue that once stood on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus in the upper quad (McCorkle Place). It was granted to the University in 1913 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. In recent years, there has been growing controversy over the existence and placement of the statue on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus. After years of debate and days of protest, Silent Sam was torn down the day right before the first day of classes in August 2018. (To learn more about Silent Sam’s History, click here).

However, these challenges reach farther than UNC-Chapel Hill and its surrounding towns. Currently, I work for Chatham County Manager’s Office and we are navigating the removal of a Confederate statue at our Historic Courthouse in Pittsboro, NC. Chatham is a neighboring county to Orange County (where Chapel Hill and Carrboro are located). Since March of 2019, there has been a large push to remove the Confederate Statue placed at the Courthouse in the Town’s center. (To learn more about the contention in Chatham around the monument, click here). The list of places working through these types of challenges does not end here. Given the current times, these are some of the challenges that public service leaders are continuing to face. 

To support future public service leaders and current practitioners, the MPA Diversity Committee hosted a breakfast panel about managing conflict and promoting inclusion in difficult political climates on 11/6/19. The Committee brought three panelists that represented the city, county, and non-profit contexts of public service.

picture of panelist, Beverly Scurry, Maurice Jones, and Chanel Nestor
From left to right, Maggie Bailey (moderator), Beverly Scurry, Maurice Jones, and Chanel Nestor.

For the city context, the Diversity Committee invited Maurice Jones who is the current Town Manager of Chapel Hill and served as the previous Town Manager of Charlottesville during the Unite the Right rally. Beverly Scurry represented the county context by speaking about her experience as the Orange County Board of Health Strategic Plan Manager and community organizer in Alamance County. For the non-profit sector, the Committee invited Chanel Nestor who serves as an Adjunct Lecturer of Rural Sociology at NC A&T and Farmers’ Market Coordinator of the Authentically Alamance Farmers’ Market Network in Alamance County. Chanel was able to speak not only about the non-profit context, but also the rural context. 

The panel served as a great opportunity to learn about implementing inclusive measures and goals into strategic planning, balancing competing values, and equity implementation in rural versus urban settings. Each member of the panel brought a unique perspective from their personal and professional experiences of navigating difficult political climates through managing conflict and continuing to promote inclusion. The panelists’ different specialties demonstrated the true intersectionality and opportunity for inclusion in public service.