HIGHLIGHT: Town of Chapel Hill Emergency Communications

sunset image of Chapel Hill's downtown Franklin Street
Downtown Chapel Hill – Franklin Street

Today is October 21, 2019 – this puts us 3/4ths of the way through hurricane season. 

Chapel Hill, even though it is pretty inland, has been hit by hurricanes in the past. Just last year, Hurricane Florence hit Chapel Hill bringing more than nine inches of rain over four days. 

Weather emergencies pose a unique challenge to local government leaders (often MPA graduates). In times of emergencies, local governments benefit from having an infrastructure to be able to communicate to residents during times of high need. This information includes providing evacuation routes, shelter locations, and weather updates. 


That the Town of Chapel Hill won an Award of Excellence for Hurricane Florence Communication. The Town was awarded this recognition by the City-County Communications & Marketing Association (3CMA) last month.

We are so proud to be apart of the Chapel Hill community. It’s also good to know that our local government works hard to serve us well in our times of highest need! 

See original article here

Meet Kristin Pawlowski!

headshot of Kristin Pawlowski

Welcome to the MPA team, Krisitin!

Kristin Pawlowski is our new Associate Director of Alumni and Employer Relations for the MPA Program! Kristin is coming to us with great experience and skills, especially after serving UNC students for more than 3 years. We are super excited to have her as an addition to our team. To learn more about Kristin, we decided to do a Q&A with her!

Where are you from?  Kristin: I grew up outside of DC in Potomac Falls, VA

What is a fun or interesting fact about your hometown?  Kristin: Growing up outside of DC gave me access to all of the Smithsonian Museums and Galleries; however, this resulted in me not realizing until college that it is actually customary to have to pay to gain access to a museum or gallery.  

What are you most excited about in your new role?  Kristin: Being a part of a service minded community!  I am eager to leverage skills and experiences to pave pathways that enable the individuals who comprise our community to serve as the future public leaders.

What is something that surprised you about your chosen career path? Kristin: EVERYTHING!  Nothing about my career path has been anticipated. I am fortunate to have been raised by parents who consistently encourage me to reflect on my experiences, embrace change as an opportunity for growth, and confident in following paths reflective of my values.  While my path has been serendipitous, my experiences have brought me a lot of joy and meaning.

Who inspires you?  Kristin: My parents and the students with whom I engage.  You all are doing some pretty inspiring things!

What is the best piece of professional advice that you have ever received? Kristin: Develop and retain a core set of professional mentors.  

Any parting wisdom for prospective MPA students?  Kristin: Be okay with not having all of the answers; opportunity lies in the uncertainty.  Take the time to reflect upon what excites and motivates you, be intentional about the actions/decisions you make; and what something is exciting and totally scary, go for it, as those are the environments in which you will be your best-self.

Thanks so much, Kristin! We can’t wait to continue working with you.


MPA-ers doing cool, not government things!

When most people think MPA at UNC-Chapel Hill, they think local government. Rightfully so, we are ranked #2 in the nation for the local government area of study. However, that is not where our knowledge stops.

Like I mentioned a few blog posts ago, the MPA program has many different concentrations (see here). One of our concentrations is non-profit management. We offer courses such as Financial Management of Nonprofit Organizations and Grant Writing and Evaluation.

Click here to see a full list of the courses for our nonprofit management concentration.

Want to know some of the cool, not local government things our alumni are doing?

Check out Wad Khalafalla, a 2018 MPA graduate with a nonprofit management concentration. Currently, she serves as the Deputy Director of Spread the Vote in Virginia! This year, Wad was awarded the Fulbright U.S. Student Program award to teach English in Malaysia. We are super excited to see where life takes you, Wad!

To learn more about Wad’s award, click here.

Check out Ashley Kazouh, a 2019 MPA graduate with a nonprofit management concentration. She currently works as a policy analyst for the Public School Forum. Ashley supports the policy team by monitoring, documenting, and providing analysis of current education policy issues in North Carolina. Talk about impact!

To learn more about Ashley’s role, click here.

Check out Ebony West, another 2018 MPA graduate, who now works at the Triangle Community Foundation as the Programs and Engagement Associate. In her role, Ebony establishes and strengthens relationships with nonprofit organizations and other partners in the region. She provides the Foundation with the community and nonprofit research about systemic inequities. Amazing!

To learn more about Ebony’s role, click here.

These are only some of the options that MPA graduates have. Cara and I are always working to strengthen our relationships with nonprofits so that we can support our students! So much so that yesterday, I went to the Orange County Third Sector Alliance Nonprofit Fair.  It was an awesome opportunity to network and connect with nonprofits like the Compass Center for Women and Families, Wonder Connection, the Dispute Settlement Center, and Grow Your World. Needless to say, they were excited to know that MPA-ers are interested in nonprofit work as well!

See you next time!

I’ve got a class that meets for only ONE weekend…

Did you know that the MPA program offers a few weekend-intensive courses?

They sure do! The weekend intensive courses are called immersion courses. They are intended to allow collaborative learning between our online and on-campus students. You spend a few weeks before your weekend meet date doing preliminary work online, which can include reading, quizzes, and assignments. Then, once your meet time rolls around, you get the opportunity to meet up with online and on-campus students from Thursday night, and Friday and Saturday all day! All of this earns your 1.5 credit hours…crazy cool, I know!

Honestly, I had never heard of this until I came to the MPA program! On a whim last year, I decided to sign up for my first ever immersion course. Last year’s course was on Collaboration and Collective Impact. This year’s course is on Data Visualization. The course title is “Communicating Data for Public Impact.” It will be taught by John Quinterno.

Here are the books that we are using for the course: Effective Data Visualization: The Right Chart for the Right Data by Stephanie Evergreen, Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, and Better Presentations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers, and Wonks by Jonathan Schwabish

According to Quinterno’s syllabus, “Data Visualization has become the catch-all term used to describe the methods, techniques, and tools for organizing and disseminating the kinds of information common in public life in ways grounded in recent scientific insights.” He describes that this will be a skills-based crash course where we will cover how to develop clear messages, design effective visual representations of data, and create more effective oral presentations.

The books, so far, have been informative, light reads. I am excited to expand my skills base in an area that I know will only increase in demand. Plus, I will get to interact with the online MPA students that I don’t get to see very often. And one of the nights, we actually have a dinner/networking session with MPA Alum.

Needless to say, I am pretty excited about what I will learn in this course!

For a general overview of the MPA Immersion, click here.

These are a few of my favorite things…

Welcome back!!!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am taking on a new role this year! I will be working with our very own Director of Admissions, Cara Robinson. This year, I will serve as the Admissions Research Assistant. This means that I get to post a lot more here and do other fun things to support the School of Government and the MPA program! I am really excited to continue sharing my experiences with you!

So for this blog post, I wanted to talk about some of my favorite things about an MPA degree (more specifically at UNC).

Our MPA program is awesome (which you will probably hear me say a lot!). Three of my favorite things about this program are the concentration options, opportunities for connections with Alumni, and the flexibility of how our degrees can serve us after graduation.


The MPA degree is a generalist degree, so I love that we have the opportunity to pick a more focused track for our educational career through concentrations. For on-campus students, the MPA program offers a concentration in local government, nonprofit management, public management, and community and economic development. For online students, the program offers concentrations for local government, nonprofit management, public management, international relations, and public health! They require that the student take a certain number of credit hours of electives related to the concentration. Once you have completed the requirements and receive your degree, then you are awarded a certificate at graduation. Concentrations allow us to do a deeper dive into a specialist frame of thought.

See: https://mpa.unc.edu/concentrations-dual-degrees


UNC-Chapel Hill is a well-known hub for MPA knowledge. The school has tons of connections! If you are interested in a specific type of work, there is someone on staff that knows someone who does that work. The staff is amazing at connecting students with alumni from the program with similar interests and career paths. The program also offers an alumni mentor program where new students are paired with alumni that have similar career goals/paths. Lastly, we have a staff person that can support our career goals. Allison Binkley is the Associate Director of Career Services. She does a lot of behind the scenes work to ensure that we can make the right connections to get on the right career path! Overall, I feel like this program works really hard to support students’ career goals through faculty and staff knowledge, alumni programming, and career support.

See: https://mpa.unc.edu/alumni


As I mentioned before, the MPA degree is pretty generalist. For me, that was a top-selling point! In true millennial fashion, purpose and flexibility are important to me when I think about my future working career. One of the things that I love about an MPA degree is that you can do many, many things. This degree sets you up to be a leader in various sectors. For example, you could be a grants manager, legislative analyst, public affairs director, community engagement manager, healthcare policy analyst, county/city manager, urban planning, consultant, or a foundation president. The career opportunities for leaders are endless!

See: https://mpa.unc.edu/mission

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed my post! Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.

My journey to an MPA…

Welcome & welcome back! 

I am back with the MPA Matters blog! Since the start of the new academic year, I have taken on a new role as the Admissions Research Assistant. I am beyond excited to help recruit the best and the brightest to our MPA program! To kick off my new role, I figured that I would share a little bit about my MPA journey…

My name is Courtney Cooper-Lewter. I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. For my undergraduate degree, I attended the University of South Carolina at Columbia. Now that I am here at UNC-Chapel Hill, it is safe to say that I have attended both “Carolinas.” In undergrad, I pursued a double major in Spanish and International Studies. Back then, I always thought that I would work in foreign affairs. I was always interested in facilitating conversations about cultural differences and improving global political relationships. It wasn’t until later that I realized that this type of work could actually happen right at home in local government. 

I began my professional career working with the Latinx community here in North Carolina as a case manager for unaccompanied children. This work did not incorporate much of foreign affairs, but it did expose me to different avenues of social work. After a little over a year of working as a case manager, I decided I wanted to pursue a Masters of Social Work degree to gain some leverage for upward mobility. As I applied to MSW programs, I realized that I loved working directly with the community members. I also realized that I did not want to become a licensed clinical therapist. When I envisioned my future, I imagined promoting systems-level change by analyzing policy from an equity lens and improving minority connectedness to institutions of political power. 

That is when I discovered the dual-degree program with Public Administration! It compiled many of the things I loved into a complimenting degree field; I got leadership, government, and policy. The MPA program has taught me foundational principles and values of public administrators, how to navigate local government, and how to frame issues to elected officials. It has also provided me with the skills to lead and facilitate groups, implement and evaluate programs, and how to view issues and solutions from differing perspectives. 

Now, I am in my second year of the MPA program and third year of graduate school. I will graduate with a Masters of Social Work and a Masters of Public Administration in May 2020. I am excited to close out my last academic year by working in UNC MPA Admissions supporting future leaders! In the future, I hope to continue working in local government to improve equity and inclusion across jurisdictions.

I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about me! Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about dual-degrees with Social Work or MPA student life. I would love to chat!

Ta Ta…For Now!

What a summer it has been! This will (unfortunately) be my last blog post of the summer. But rest assured, my work with Chatham County is not done!

Picture of freshly picked blueberries
The blueberries I picked while interviewing a producer from the Chatham agriculture community.

Over the last few weeks, I spent a lot of time deciphering and coding the information that I received from interviews.  And let me tell you…I had quite the spread! After I coded them, checked them, re-coded, and re-coded, and re-coded…I finally had a clearer picture of what Chatham residents view as challenges to a more connected community and what they think we (the Chatham public administrators) could do to tackle those challenges. It was really interesting to see the similarities and differences of responses to my two standard interviews questions. After coding the responses, I wrapped it all up in the best public administrator package that I had — you guessed it, A MEMO!

gif that says busy, busy, busy with puppy paws typing
Me working on coding and typing my memo

My beautiful memo outlined the findings of my interviews and research thus far. The top three challenges that Chatham residents mentioned fell into three broad categories – equity, division, and infrastructure. These broad categories were then broken up into corresponding subcategories such as race, geography, and broadband. (side note: Did you know that some Chatham residents do not have access to internet because the internet companies never placed fiber in their areas? Talk about a market failure…). And some of the suggestions I got were around building stronger community relationships and the opportunity to share stories across town lines. In addition, my memo outlined possible paths that the County Manager’s Office could take in working towards unifying Chatham County.

And then…I got to present to the County Manager…So on Wednesday of last week, I got to present my findings and ideas to Dan. Dan was super receptive and supportive. He provided me with some good feedback on what the County Commissioners would likely want to know. I left that meeting knowing that I had the support of the County Manager! So, in September I will be presenting my findings and recommendations to the County Commissioners at the Board of Commissioner’s meeting.

gif of a woman of color doing her happy dance
How I felt after my meeting with Dan

As I move forward, I will continue to map out how we can implement some community building events in Chatham County. Hopefully, in the next fiscal year a position can be funded to carry out this work!

gif of tigger walking out of Pooh's door saying tata for now

It has been a pleasure sharing my experience with you all! I hope to continue doing this kind of work in the future so be on the look out for me! In the famous words of Tigger, “Ta ta for now!”


Chatham’s NEW County Commissioners

Yep, you heard that right – we got new County Commissioners outside of the election cycle.

Ok, so maybe they weren’t exactly sworn in, but they did volunteer to serve and make decisions about the County’s future. Oh, and I should also mention that they are all under the age of 19 years old. Here they are…

picture of 6 latinx youth and two county commissioners sitting in the commissioner chairs in the historic court house
[Photo from Chatham News + Record] With an assist from actual Commissioners Jim Crawford (third from left) and Diana Hales (third from right, the “commissioners” were, from left to right, Noemi Mora, Oscar Manzanarez, Chair Kevin Manzanarez, Vice Chair Cesia Lopez and Berenice Diaz.
Let me explain…

The Orgullo Latinx Pride youth group of El Vinculo Hispano/The Hispanic Liaison and Lindsay Ray, the County Clerk, organized a mock Board of Commissioners meeting to show Latinx youth a little more about the role of County Commissioners. The youth got to serve in varying capacities throughout the activity such as commissioners, the clerk, and residents.

Picture of citizen at public input
[Photo from Chatham News + Record] “Citizen #2” Jocelyn Gonzalez shares her thoughts on why the board of commissioners should have a social media page during the public input session of the meeting.
It was truly a fun experience. The “newly elected” commissioners got to listen to public input about social media use to promote awareness of local government and help for a fundraiser. Then, they got to listen to public hearings about school uniforms and banning chewing gum in schools. They even got to discuss and vote on the hearings. Lastly, they were able to decide which projects to fund for the upcoming fiscal year. The votes were taken by using starburst candy. (I may or may not have eaten quite a few of the candies myself).

Picture of the voting vases with starbursts that show which projects got funded
[Photo from Chatham News + Record] The final votes on possible funding options, as picked by “commissioners.” A new costume and updated robot friend for Sparky the Fire Dog and an “Adopt-A-Pet Visiting Area” at the animal shelter won out.
After the activity, the County Manager’s staff and the commissioners stayed and chatted, answering questions and listening to the youth voice their concerns about their communities. Honestly, it was great to see local government being explored by Latinx youth. As a person of color, I know that building a level of comfort with local government spaces and having the social capital to access those spaces are often prerequisites for entering the local government sphere. I was so happy to be a part of building that foundation of comfort, understanding, and (maybe) trust. One thing I do know is that this won’t be the last time I see these Latinx youth doing great things!

By far, this was probably one of my favorite things since joining Chatham County! 

HR Packs a Punch with Small Gestures!

Meet Chatham County’s Human Resources Director, Carolyn Miller.

funny photo of HR Director Carolyn Miller dressed as Dorothy for Halloween
Carolyn Miller: our fun, lively Human Resources Director

On Thursday last week, I had the opportunity to shadow Carolyn.  I learned more about how conflicts are managed, HR consultations, new employee orientation, and all the many things our HR department does and manages. But of course, I got to learn more about the little things that Chatham County’s HR department does that makes a big impact on employees. 

Little things, Big impact

Thing 1: Promotions are celebrated by baked goods. Chatham County employs over 500 employees and HR makes sure to celebrate each promotion. Every time that there is a promotion in the County, the four HR staff make a basket of baked goods for that employee.  This is definitely a nice touch that shows that HR cares and is proud of you!

photo of powerpoint from new employee orientation that says diversity, equity and inclusion
Picture from new employee orientation of the beginning of the diversity, equity and inclusion portion

Thing 2: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are embedded into new employee orientation. Chatham County’s HR department makes sure that diversity, equity and inclusion is something that you hear from the beginning of your career with Chatham County. Carolyn reviews key definitions and how every individual’s culture impacts their reality, starting with her own story. Carolyn stresses the importance of these values and the continued work that everyone must engage in to overcome our implicit biases.

Thing 3: Desk chairs and colors were intentionally selected to impact organizational image. You are probably wondering what HR has to do with desk chairs and colors. Apparently, a good deal! Carolyn Miller told me that she and the previous County Manager intentionally picked a medium oak colored desk and cloth-backed chairs for their offices to promote a more welcoming space. She said that they steered clear of mahogany desks and leather chairs because that created a more ostentatious look. Moral of the story is that HR played an important role in being intentional in how they crafted the County Manager’s space.

picture of HR staff dressed in wizard of oz costumes
Halloween 2018: HR staff dresses as the Wizard of Oz

Thing 4: HR + the County Manager judge an annual County-wide employee Halloween costume contest. First and foremost, the HR department does reverse trick-or-treating and goes to each department in the County to pass out candy on Halloween. In addition to that, the departments (as individuals or groups) can also enter the costume contests! I saw the pictures from years before…Chatham County employees go ALL OUT.

Thing 4: An employee-generated policy idea became HR policy & it is the only one of its kind in the STATE. In the County, there is a Personnel Committee where employees are selected to represent employees to HR staff. The Personnel Committee presented HR with the idea of a “Tobacco Free Petty Leave Policy.” Petty leave for those who don’t know is “free time off” granted by your employer to use for running errands or whatever you want. Chatham County does grant each employee an allotted amount of petty leave, but if you are a non-tobacco user (verified from your medical provider) then you are granted additional petty leave known as tobacco free petty leave. If you are a tobacco user that enrolls in a cessation program, you are granted some tobacco free petty leave as well. This is the only policy like it in the state and it was completely generated by employees and accepted by HR. This shows HR’s commitment to employee health.

photo of goody bag filled with tootsie rolls for 2017 employee appreciation day that says great serivice is how we roll - happy employee appreciation day 2017!
2017 Employee Appreciation Day

Thing 6: HR marks “Employee Appreciation Day” and visits every department with small gifts. On this day in March, the HR department and the County Manager go to every department and office to pass out goodies and talk with folks to show their appreciation. This is a great way for people to interact with the County Manager.

Thing 7: Annual Salsa and Chili Contests for employees. Every year in the fall, County employees can also compete in the annual salsa and chili contests. The chili that won last year had an unexpected twist – CHOCOLATE. Apparently, it was a mole (Mexican dish)-inspired chili recipe.

Needless to say, I learned a lot about how Chatham County’s Human Resources Department gets creative to make employees happy and proud to work for the County.

MEMO: Chatham Organizational Quirks

**DIsclaimer: if you recently finished year 1 of the mpa program, it may be too soon to see another memo. if this post is triggering, please click the small ‘x’ in the upper right hand corner. Other than that – welcome to this week’s blog. Surprise! It’s written in memo format. every MPA-er knows that memos are life. So, here ya go!

TO:                  MPA Matters Readers

FROM:         Courtney Cooper-Lewter, MSW/MPA Intern 

DATE:           10 July 2019

SUBJECTChatham County Manager’s Office Organizational Culture & Quirks

The purpose of this memo is to outline some of the organizational quirks of the Chatham County Manager’s Office, from an intern’s perspective. 


HAPPY TWO MONTH-IVERSARY to me and the Chatham County Manager’s Office! I have spent the last two months really diving deep into understanding Chatham culture and the Manager’s Office, in general. I am very grateful to be working in an office that embraces me as part of the team, not just an intern.  Plus, this office is quirky and eclectic and awesome! So in this memo, I will discuss some of the key things that make this office’s culture different.


According to Management Study Guide, a healthy organizational culture increases motivation, unifies, and brings out the best in employees. So far, there are three aspects of the Chatham County Manager’s Office that make it stand out as a great place to work.

      1. Christmas in July: Yep, that happened. Our awesome Safety and Risk Manager, Marilyn Grant, surprised everyone in the office with a gift + Christmas card on July 1st. The gifts were thoughtful and pretty spot on! For my gift, I got a pretty scarf! I have no idea how she knew I loved scarves. A heavy coffee drinker in our office, who shall remain unnamed, got a cute monogrammed coffee tumbler. After some further investigation, I found out that this is her yearly tradition in the office. I was pleasantly surprised and it was a great mid-summer pick me up!
      2. Eclectic Knowledge: You would be surprised to know that the majority of the folks working in Chatham County Manager’s Office don’t have an MPA or even a government educational background. Our Budget Director has a PhD in psychology. Our Human Resources Director has a history background. And, our County Manager has an environmental engineering degree from NC State! We also have folks that are experienced in furniture sales, pharmaceutical companies, and have basic law enforcement training (BLET) all in one office. This shows that Chatham County Manager’s Office is a place for everybody (and where just about any question can be answered).
      3. HR on the Ground: Chatham County’s Human Resources department is awesome and housed in the County Manager’s Office! It seems like the HR staff individually knows every 500+ employees in the County. It is obvious that they make an effort to learn about new employees and be approachable. My office is right across the hall from the Benefits Manager’s office and people pop in all of the time to ask her questions and just talk. I am convinced she has magical powers because she remembers tons of details about people’s lives, like where their kid goes to school or a vacation someone took recently. A few weeks ago, the HR Director cleaned my office as part of job shadowing of the one of the maintenance workers. HR invites folks out for lunch for check-ins. The HR Director even bought us lunch on July 5th as a celebration of being at work the day after the holiday. Later this week, I will be shadowing the HR Director, so tune in next week to see what I learn!


This final verdict is in….Chatham County Manager’s Office is a warm, welcoming, and fun place to work. 10 out of 10, would recommend!