The 2019 Deil Wright Lecture: Professor Donald Kettl

Here on the blog I’ve talked a lot about the opportunities MPA students have to work and learn from fellow students across platforms, faculty, alumni, and various public service professionals. The Carolina MPA Program also provides students a yearly opportunity to interact with distinguished scholars in the field of Public Administration. The Deil S. Wright Lecture, started by alumni in 2002, invites a prominent voice in the field handpicked by faculty to come speak at the School of Government.

This year’s speaker was Professor Don Kettl, from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Volcker Alliance, the Brookings Institution and the Partnership for Public Service. Prof Kettl is well known and loved by UNC MPA students as someone who literally wrote the book on Public Administration – his Politics of the Administrative Process IS the textbook we use for our survey course in Institutions and Values. Before the lecture, MPA students took Prof Kettl to the North Carolina Basketball museum and posed for a photo with our tea kettle (affectionately dubbed by students as the “the Don Kettl”). His lecture discussed the current state of Federalism and pointed to the role of Intergovernmental Relations that underlies many of our country’s more pressing political issues such as immigration and health care.  

Above: Don Kettl’s signature on my textbook!

Below: Don Kettl poses with MPA Students holding a tea kettle named in his honor.

In addition to hearing Prof Kettl speak about Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations, I also enjoyed the chance to learn more about who Deil Wright was as a person. We extensively studied his work in my Intergovernmental Relations course. After the lecture, I was speaking with Dr. Wright’s children who told me how every night in his study he would spend an hour calling past students to check on their personal and professional lives and offer his advice and help them make connection to other alumni working in similar fields or on similar issues.

The lecture was a great experience for me to both connect with a scholar whose work I admired and a chance to learn a little more about the history of a figure who was so important in the development of the MPA program.


The Collaborative Cohort Culture of the MPA Program at UNC

There’s lots of energy around the MPA wing at the UNC School of Government right now. Many different people are working hard with their eyes on the future.

Second year students like myself are bearing down to write our portfolios, a lengthy document that graduating MPA students submit to satisfy the thesis requirements of the MPA program and the Graduate School. We are also working hard at writing cover letters and polishing our resumes as we apply for jobs to start after graduation. First year students are working on their own resumes and cover letters as they apply for their Professional Work Experience (PWE) internships for the summer. Today begins a period of a few weeks where interviewers (many of whom are MPA alumni themselves) are coming to campus from a variety of local and state government organizations to speak with prospective interns.

They aren’t even the only interviewees in the building. Today we also began welcoming prospective students to campus for admission to the program. Our applicants come from a diverse background of undergraduate programs and work experiences from Environmental Science to Public Policy to the Military and all levels of government. I distinctly remember my interview experience and recall the mixed emotions of feeling both nervous and excited. I feel like I can relate to every applicant I’ve met and I enjoy learning about their interests and ambitions.

My name tag from my admissions interview exactly 2 years ago.


What strikes me as a through-line connecting each group is the collaborative nature of the cohort structure. Working and learning together builds a very strong culture. Through group work and general shared experience, students build strong academic and social bonds. While some graduate school programs have a reputation of being ultra-competitive and cut-throat, the culture of the MPA program is welcoming and cooperative. Though the process of writing our portfolios is difficult, we have each other to lean on. We help each other through peer-editing, recommending sources to cite, and offering genuine emotional support. We have lots of support from last year’s graduating class, who have kept in touch and offer us thoughtful advice. We also help each other looking for jobs and regularly email postings to each other based on knowing our peers skills and interests. Having gone through the PWE interview search process the second year class is able to offer perspective and advice to the first years as they go through the process themselves. Both first and second year students joined prospective students for lunch today and shared in conversation about career goals and our visions of 21st century public service.

The collaborative cohort culture is a huge part of what brought me to the program and what has sustained me throughout my time here.

A Who’s Who of Famous MPA’s

We often discuss on this blog that students come to the MPA program with a variety of career goals across all sectors and levels of government. For my first blog post of 2019, I wanted to have some fun and highlight some notable or famous people that have MPA diplomas hanging on their walls. I’ll also highlight how something each MPA alum does connects to our program here at UNC.

Klaus Schwab is the founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, an international institution for public-private cooperation. He received an MPA from Harvard in addition to his doctorates in Engineering and Economics. The WEF’s collaborative approach between sectors is at the heart of much of what UNC MPA students learn about in courses like “Institutions and Values,” units on collaboration and innovation in “Organizational Theory” and “Public Service Leadership” and electives like “Economic Development” “Community Development,” “Intergovernmental Relations,” and “Collaborative Governance.” Schwab spoke at Harvard about how important his MPA was to his establishment of the WEF. He said that “nothing has influenced [his] life more than” his MPA experience, considering it “an essential pillar in the buildup of the WEF.”

Many students come to the program with an interest in achieving leadership positions in Criminal Justice. Frank Spangenberg got his MPA from Harvard to further his career in Law Enforcement with the NYPD. He later further bolstered his academic record with a PhD in Criminal Justice from John Jay. Despite his phenomenal academic record, he is better known for his ground-breaking run as a contestant on Jeopardy. He was the first contestant to break $100,000 and for many years held the record for most money won. He went on to return for a variety of other Jeopardy winners tournaments, including the 2005 Tournament of Champions during his time as an MPA student. With this in mind, it is unsurprising that trivia is a common activity and source of bonding for many current MPA students at UNC. Affectionately dubbed the “Beeracrats,” a group of current UNC MPA’s are a veritable force at trivia nights across Chapel Hill and Carrboro (especially at Linda’s). Per the then rules of Jeopardy, Frank donated a large share of his initial winnings to a Gift of Love Hospice. Prospective MPA students interested in non-profit organizations may connect with this video of Frank telling a story of a chance encounter with a volunteer from the Hospice who told him how much his gift meant to the organization.

Our next MPA did not appeared on Jeopardy, but she did star in the 1999 Mystery Thriller “Double Jeopardy.” Even though Ashley Judd roots for the wrong color blue on the basketball court (she’s an avid Kentucky supporter), she showed her heart is in the right place and committed to public service when she earned an MPA from Harvard in 2010. She told the New York Times too that she wanted to get an MPA so she could “immerse [her]self in some very serious, earnest, practical learning with people who have literally dedicated all they have to public service.” Some come through UNC’s MPA program to work in government agencies, but others want to work with nonprofits to advance causes they believe in, operationalizing their MPA-knowledge as activists and change makers. Many students have specific policy goals to achieve, like ending sexual violence, combating homelessness, expanding affordable housing, or increasing access to the arts. As someone pursing the Non-Profit Management Concentration, I have the pleasure of learning alongside these students everyday. Judd uses skills from her MPA degree as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Empowerment of Adolescent Girls. She appreciated that like herself, MPA classmates “were shamelessly unapologetic about being do-gooders.” She is now continuing her education, enrolling in a PhD program at The University of California-Berkeley..


Ashley Judd celebrates her MPA graduation. Though this photo was taken at Harvard, we approve of the Carolina Blue in the globes! (Photo by Josh Reynolds, Associated Press)


Continuing our connection to Hollywood, the memoir of Charles “Sully” Sullenberger was adapted into the 2016 blockbuster film “Sully.”  Starring Tom Hanks, it tells the story of how Sullenberger successfully landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after an engine failure, saving the lives of everyone on board. You may have already known that about Sully, but what you may not have known is that he has a deep commitment to public service. He served in the Air Force and also earned an MPA from Northern Colorado University in 1979. Now, we can’t promise you that Tom Hanks will portray you on the big screen if you get an MPA, but you will learn about key leadership skills and competencies that will help you manage difficult situations that have serious consequences for those you serve. See this previous blog post about connections to between the MPA program and Emergency Management.

I hope that this journey through famous MPA’s has been as fun to read as it was to research! We at the UNC MPA program hope that everyone had a happy holiday. We are looking forward to a new year exploring more MPA Matters!




Inclusion and Public Service: A Reflection on Authenticity

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending a thought-provoking and inspiring event produced by the UNC MPA Program Diversity Committee. Entitled “Inclusion and Public Service,” the event brought together a panel of UNC MPA Alumni to discuss their perspectives on the topics of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity from their experience as professionals in the field. The panel was moderated by Eric Marsh (Class of 2017, Strategic Initiatives Analyst for Durham County) and featured Monica Chaparro (Class of 2005, Strategic Planning & Performance Manager for the City of Raleigh), Faith Thompson (Class of 2003, Public Housing Director for the Town of Chapel Hill) and Dan Goetz (Class of 1977, Retired Project Manager for RTI International, Currently working with Organizing against Racism and the People’s Alliance in Durham).

Pictured above are the panelists with moderator Eric Marsh

One of the strengths of the MPA program at UNC is the extensive alumni network. Having alumni share their knowledge, both during the panel and informal conversation afterwards, was an excellent resource for students. The panel allowed students to further engage with topics we often read about and discuss in class and view them through a practical, real-life lens. I have been extensively thinking and writing about diversity, equity, and inclusion after attending an intensive training from the Racial Equity Institute as part of my own work in the Arts Community. I especially appreciated this opportunity to carry on the conversation of equity in public administration with my colleagues, professors, and alumni.

One of my main takeawayswas around the concept of authenticity. I heard this word come up again and again throughout the panel. A theme emerged that workplaces who succeed in these areas create an atmosphere where all employees feel they don’t have to alter who they are to come to work. I really connected with the way Monica explained this: “I bring my authentic self to work and my differences add value. I have a commitment to who I am. I bring that to work with me and I don’t feel compelled to assimilate to be someone that isn’t me.” Monica also discussed how this goes beyond demographic diversity. She and other panelists also discussed the importance of diversity of thought within organizations, citing the quote “the clash of ideas is the sound of freedom.” Faith discussed her work supporting authentic conversations among employees and urging people to thoughtfully examine stereotypes. She stressed it can be difficult to implement what people suggest but “I can’t ignore their feelings because I asked them to share.” She also talked about how this work fostered collaboration between different departments (such as Solid Waste and Business Management). Finally, Dan shared that he felt mapping where the power is in an organization is a very important part of inclusion, particularly in considering who is consulted when big decisions are made. He also discussed how many conversations can fall apart because we don’t have a shared set of language and definitions.

These issues exist across all corners of the public service field. As administrators in training, we need the intellectual, analytical, and emotional tools to engage with diverse communities to ensure equitable service delivery and workplace environments. The MPA Program, through coursework, events like the panel, and engagement with alumni can give an aspiring public service professional some of the tools they need to consider equity in their personal and professional lives. One event, panel, or graduate degree does not solve systemic problems, but it does give motivated students some effective tools, language, and knowledge to bring with them into their future public service careers.

MPA Immersion Weekend: Collaborative Governance

Recently, the UNC MPA program held its annual fall Immersion Course, focusing on the topic of Collaborative Governance. The Immersion is an optional course that gives online and on-campus students the opportunity to come together for a full, intensive weekend of instruction and thoughtful group work and discussion for credit in the MPA program. This semester’s course was led by Professors John Stephens and Rick Morse and included 43 students, 30 from the on-line program and 13 from the on-campus format. Students completed coursework online in advance and all read the same articles and case studies to prepare for the weekend. The course featured several panels of experts from the field who were able to share their observations and lessons learned from their professional experiences

My classmate Timothy Shober attended the Immersion and he told me he really enjoyed the panels and getting to learn from “professionals from around the triangle who actively participate in collaborative governance efforts.” Another on-campus student, Jake Levitas, added that he liked hearing from “practitioners focusing on case studies the students had reviewed.” Timothy appreciated that the panelists viewed the issues “though a practical lens rather than an academic lens.”


The Immersion Crew smiles for a photo in front of UNC’s School of Government in Chapel Hill.


Reflecting on the weekend, Jake told me “the immersion is a great way to meet new people.” He especially liked getting to meet students from the online program he might not have gotten to otherwise. Timothy added that the on-line students bring a lot more work experience across many sectors (public, private, non-profit, military) to the conversation, and that many students had relevant and thoughtful examples to share from their current full-time positions. Over the course of the weekend, students from the online program had the opportunity and network with each other as well the on-campus students and the faculty. Students got a chance to learn about each others’ interests and career goals over meals and during snack breaks. A reception with alumni on Friday evening offered still more opportunities to for student to network and learn more about the field.

Summarizing his experience, Timothy said “my biggest take away was that collaboration is not an easy, efficient, or fluid process but it allows groups to leverage pooled resources to achieve better outcomes.” He believes that the collaborative process helps prevent “siloed” and unconnected services in communities across many providers in government, non-profit, and private organizations.

Data, Strategy, and the MPA Degree

The strategic use of data is everywhere in the field of Public Administration. For public service leaders to be effective in the modern era, the skills to collect, analyze, report, and operationalize data are essential. In an article in Public Administration Times entitled “Data Insights Lead to Better Public Administration,” Bill Brantley writes, “good policy analysis has always relied on data and statistical analysis to understand policy issues and formulate appropriate policy responses.” He also points out that “our ability to collect data” has changed and that we have more tools and more capacity to collect data than ever before. The federal government is currently working an overarching data strategy with a goal to “leverage data as a strategic asset to grow the economy, increase the effectiveness of the Federal Government, facilitate oversight, and promote transparency.”

Word Cloud prepared by the author.

With that in mind, the MPA program at UNC requires coursework in data analysis. All students take a data-driven Research and Analysis class each semester of their first year in the program. Another required course, Organizational Theory, gets into the topics of performance management and strategic planning. Students can also dig deeper into data with electives in topics like performance management, productivity, decision analysis, and benchmarking.

Earlier this week our student ICMA chapter invited UNC MPA alumni Monica Chaparro and Josh Edwards to discuss their professional experience with data and strategic planning in local government. Monica is the Program Manager of Strategic Planning and Performance Management in the Budget Department in the City of Raleigh and Josh is the Assistant Budget Director of Strategy and Performance as well as the Director of the Innovation Team for the City of Durham.

Reflecting on her UNC MPA experience, Monica shared that “David Ammon’s Productivity in Local Government class coupled with Maureen Berner’s program evaluation class piqued my interest in the intersection of data and strategy. Beyond piquing my interest, those classes equipped me with the foundational skills I needed to flourish in my first job, which involved managing the Balanced Scorecard for one of the City of Charlotte’s largest departments.” Josh had a similar comment, adding, “whether I am working on building data capacity in my organization, helping a department develop key performance measures, or analyzing data to help improve city services, I am thankful for how well Professor Berner, Professor Ammons, and Professor Morse helped develop my analytical toolkit at the MPA Program.”

Current MPA student and Wake County Budget and Management Intern Aaron Brown is also very interested in the intersection of data and strategy. He is taking Performance Management with Professor Rivenbark because it brings together data analysis and strategic planning. Aaron thinks that strategic planning is key because “I want my data analysis to matter.” He told me that he believes public service leaders can use data to give them a “tangible direction” and can help measure progress on “real goals that you can reach out and touch.”

Student Perspective: MPA and Emergency Management

This week’s blog post looks at the MPA degree in the context of emergency management and shares the perspective of Max Dixon, a current MPA student.

One of the most crucial responsibilities of the public sector is emergency management: preparing and responding to disasters. The recent devastating effects of hurricanes in the southeast remind us how important this work actually is. When the worst happens, we have to rely on trained professionals to help us. University of New Orleans Professor and former chair of ASPA’s Section on Emergency and Crisis Management John K. Kiefer says that Emergency Management is “at its core, public management” (2013). Esteemed scholar of Emergency Management William Waugh further defines it as “the management of risk so that societies can live with environmental and technical hazards and deal with the disasters that they cause” (2000, cited in the above-linked paper).

Chapel Hill is among many communities in North Carolina that have seen flooding in recent hurricanes. (Photo: Durham Herald Sun.)

An MPA degree is important because government agencies and nonprofit aid organizations need skilled professionals who effectively and efficiently guide emergency responses, getting resources where they need to be as soon as possible to help those with immediate needs. The MPA Program can help prepare professionals for these situations. For example, we need people who are able to manage relationships across levels of government (Intergovernmental Relations), understand funding streams and reporting responsibilities (Public Budgeting), and lead and motivate teams in times of crisis (Public Service Leadership and Organizational Theory). We also need the skills to evaluate previous disasters and collect relevant data to analyze how we did and how we can do better in the future (Analysis & Evaluation, Performance Management).

Max Dixon is a current second year MPA student. His Professional Work Experience this past summer was with Cumberland County Emergency Management and he has served in many different roles in the United States Army. I asked him about how MPA courses affected his experience. He said that “organizational theory set me up well for understanding how the system is put together with overlapping layers of local, regional, state and federal resources and trying to figure out the lines of responsibility and authority.” He added that “PUBA 711 (Public Service Leadership) will likely be beneficial to anyone going straight from the MPA program into emergency management.” For those at the beginning of their careers with little experience in the field, “understanding their own leadership styles and how stress effects them should prove very useful.”

Nice to Meet You!

Hello! My name is Josh Rosenstein and I am a second year MPA student at the UNC School of Government. I’m excited to share my student experience with you, as well as to explore all the cool and amazing things that people are doing out in the real world with an MPA degree. In my first blog, I’m going to tell you a little about myself and how I got here.

I took a strange and interesting path into this degree program. I studied Cultural Anthropology and History at the University of Georgia. While in Athens, I was very involved in the music scene and volunteered as an organizer around higher education and immigration issues. After graduating, I moved to western North Carolina and worked for a nonprofit, resident school with an environmental focus. I was a dorm parent, outdoor leader, and taught music and history. During the summers, I ran teen leadership programs at summer camps in western North Carolina and the Bay Area of California. I then decided to focus on my creative ambitions in music and comedy while working as hotel front-desk agent and a door-to-door fundraiser for an environmental non-profit in Asheville. I also toured with some friends in Australia as a stand-up comedian and when I got back, eventually settled in Chapel Hill looking for something new.

I quickly found myself hosting a local open mic at a place called Zog’s on Henderson Street. I fell in love with running the show, creating a space for talented people to get a chance to hone their skills. The bar’s owner, Mandey Brown, is an artist and was serving on the Town’s Cultural Arts Commission (you may have seen her in local media recently for turning her business into an impromptu Hurricane Florence Supply Donation Center). The Commission was recruiting new members and she encouraged me to apply.

Above are photos of me with a recent public art project at the Chapel Hill Public Library.

I joined the Commission in 2015, and got so much out of the work. I deeply enjoyed learning about the inner-workings of local government. While working on the Cultural Arts Master Plan, something clicked (what many MPA professors would refer to technically as an “a-ha moment”). I realized we were doing the same thing on the Commission as with open mic: helping create spaces for artists to engage with their communities. I starting talking to folks about careers in public art and realized I could do this for a living, not just as a hobby or a volunteer. I knew I wanted to work in a local or state government arts office or a non-profit. I knew I needed to know more about things like public and non-profit budgeting, human resources, program evaluation, and leadership and management skills.

With all that in my head, I went to an Open House for the MPA program and knew it was right for me. Everyone in my cohort has his or her own interesting journey taken to be here. Some of us want to run non-profits. Some want to be city managers or budget analysts. Others want to work for the federal government or in international policy. What binds all of us together is a desire to serve the public. Beyond that, we are in the program to gain technical skills and master the competencies required to serve the public well. We want to be folks who change organizations for the better and help fulfill the noble mission to make people’s lives better.