Welcome to our new ‘On-campus’ Class of 2022

1st year orientation
Our 1st year residential students gather for a socially distanced orientation.

Hi again,

With the beginning of a new academic year comes new experiences and people. This is particularly true for the MPA program’s first-year ‘residential’ students (residential being in quotation marks due to the ongoing pandemic which is keeping us from being truly in-person), which is why I wanted to take some time to introduce you to this cohort.

The incoming class is one of the largest and most diverse that the residential program has welcomed in years, with 28 students joining UNC’s MPA network exemplifying various academic backgrounds and career interests. The cohort is representing 18 different undergraduate institutions including, UNC-Asheville, N.C. State University, Vanderbilt, Clemson, University of Kansas, and others. To accompany these undergraduate institutions, these individuals are bringing a wide variety of academic backgrounds to the classroom with undergraduate degrees in Political Science, Sociology, Psychology, Sport and Entertainment Management, Civil Engineering, Physics, Philosophy, and more.

While there is a large number of students joining the program from various undergraduate universities, another interesting characteristic of this class is that it contains our largest number of graduates from UNC-Chapel Hill. We have 9 students who are continuing their time as a Tar Heel in this cohort. Among the nine, 3 students are pursuing the Environmental dual degree that UNC offers. In looking at North Carolina as a whole, there are 12 additional students continuing their education within the program after receiving their undergraduate degree from an in-state institution.

Along with the rich amount of in-state representation in this cohort, there is significant number of students welcomed to the program from outside of North Carolina. Roughly a third of this cohort consists of out-of-state students. These individuals are bringing their passions from states such as Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia.

While this semester looks a little different due to COVID-19, we are so proud of how well the first-year students are transitioning into this virtual learning environment. With most of the students averaging over three years of professional experience already, the passion and motivation for public service is tangible among this cohort. We are very happy to have these students providing insight from their experiences to make this program more enriching.

On behalf of the MPA Class of 2021, I would like to officially welcome each student of the first-year cohort to Carolina MPA. We are looking forward to providing support and getting to know each of you as we continue this year together! Remember that you have a purpose for being in this program, so let your values and passions guide you and you will make an impact!

A New Student Blogger!

Hi everyone!

My name is Clay Fleming and I am a second-year student in the residential MPA program here at the UNC School of Government. As we continue these blogs, I hope to provide a closer look at the student experience within the program, as well as offer some insight into the incredible work others with a MPA degree are accomplishing in their communities. In my first blog, I am going to share a little about myself and the path I took to arrive here at UNC.


My journey to the MPA program was different but not too out of the ordinary. While pursuing my bachelor’s degree at Appalachian State University, I was heavily involved in a community service organization called Appalachian & the Community Together (ACT). In this organization, I helped provide community volunteer opportunities to students at Appalachian State as well as lead service trips to different communities across the country. Through my involvement, I began to realize I have a passion for serving communities.


This realization was made even clearer during my senior year, when I had the opportunity to lead a community service trip to San Francisco. The group I was leading worked with three non-profits in the Bay Area, all of which discussed working with local government to create ordinances that were mutually beneficial for the non-profit and San Francisco residents. Through witnessing the direct impact these partnerships had on the community, I realized I wanted this to be my career. The next day, I found UNC’s MPA website, read about the program’s focus on both non-profits and local government and I was sold!


Once I started the residential program last fall, I began to see all of the different avenues this degree could take me. Prior to starting the MPA degree, I never gave much thought to working in local government as a career, as I was set on working for a non-profit. However, with local government being the strong point of the program, my interests were ignited. Over the summer, I had my first authentic exposure to life working in a municipality through my Professional Work Experience (PWE) with the Town of Holly Springs. While interning there, it was incredible to see the inner workings of the government body to support residents, especially during COVID-19.


Ultimately with my MPA degree, I hope to create positive social change in the world that includes an emphasis on social equity. Whether my career leads me to local government or the non-profit sphere, I want to continue my passion for strengthening communities and serving people. I am very thankful for the opportunity to pursue this career and the support this program offers to me and my peers. I look forward to regularly updating you on various topics and happenings within public administration.

Working with Clients during Covid-19

In theory, helping the teams create a 5-minute, multimedia presentation would have been fairly easy before COVID. They likely would have visited Chapel Hill during the summer for meetings, and I could have set them up for audio or video recording with professional equipment at the SOG. Worst case scenario, I may have had to make a road trip to the communities in order to co-create the presentations. However, COVID-19 has made client relationships much more complicated, especially in communities that may lack strong broadband access or public health infrastructure. Many of the individuals and organizations in the ORP are doing double duty as COVID-19 contact tracers, care providers, or policymakers. They are often extremely busy, even overwhelmed, with pandemic-related work, which makes finding time to meet difficult.
Additionally, travel restrictions and bans on in-person meetings have made all of our work on the presentations virtual. Instead of a day’s worth of recording, I have to schedule weeks of time in which I provide drafts to project managers and teams, they record audio, and I put the final products together. This has made working with clients much more difficult than it likely would have been without the influence of coronavirus. However, the teams have also expressed their gratitude for my help during this time, as they are overworked and already coping with drastic changes to in-person programs and services, including drug courts, syringe exchanges, and medical care and counseling. Although the pandemic might have made it more complicated and time-consuming, it has also taught me how to work with diverse clients virtually, and has thereby been a valuable professional experience both now and in the future.

Speaking Out and Making Change

Writing this blog has been difficult this week, as our country cries out in pain and anger and demands change of our institutions. The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police in Minneapolis and Louisville have inspired global protests, including in all 50 US states. There are hundreds of thousands of people demanding justice in cities all over the country, including Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Wilmington, and more in North Carolina alone. All of this is, of course, in the context of the systemic racism experienced by people of color – violence from police, but also disparities in every major health and wellbeing indicator, the trauma and chronic stress of interpersonal and institutional racism, and the reality that to many Americans, their lives matter less than their white counterparts. And I want to make it clear: Black Lives Matter, and it’s our responsibility as individuals and professionals to change the systems we work in to be anti-racist and anti-oppressive.

Working for a governmental organization is hard right now, as someone whose partner, best friend, and colleagues are Black. I recognize the complicity of all of our governmental institutions in racism, simply because of our nation’s history as one built on genocide and slavery. And I honestly didn’t know what to write about for MPA Matters that would not seem either tone deaf or overly political. I was worried not only that my words would not be sufficient, but also that they may not be appropriate for this platform. However, I argue that as we MPA students work in our PWEs this summer, that it is our duty to not only observe government’s functions and build our own skills, but also challenge the assumptions on which these organizations rest.

That challenge may not be the same for everyone; as an employee of the School of Government, my work must remain understandably policy neutral in order to engage elected officials and administrators from all corners of our state. And ncIMPACT’s work, including all of the projects on which I am working, are focused on making the lives of vulnerable populations, including Black North Carolinians, better, safer, and more prosperous. I can take some comfort in the fact that my efforts will effect some change, for individuals and communities if not the systems themselves. However, there is so much more to be done, personally, professionally, and institutionally, to address my and our roles in white supremacy and anti-black violence. My hope is that after the protests are over – when police have put down their tear gas and rubber bullets – that we all maintain the same level of urgency we feel now for change, unity, and the value of Black lives.

Making an Impact

ncIMPACT Initiative is an applied public policy team that works with public officials to develop collaborative solutions to North Carolina’s wicked problems. They use an interdisciplinary approach, data driven high-quality analysis, and innovative practices to implement, evaluate, and publicize these solutions while remaining politically and policy neutral.

This is where I’ll be doing my Professional Work Experience.  My introduction  with ncIMPACT is a Zoom call with my new supervisor, Emily, on Monday at 9 AM. It’s the second to last day of exams and I’m still turning in a final tonight, but my MSW-MPA requirements mean I’m working 600 hours this summer; there’s no time to take a week or two and recuperate. The whirlwind of getting onboarded to a new organization coincides with the relief of finishing off an unusual and difficult semester, thanks to the coronavirus.

COVID-19 has blurred the lines between work and life so thoroughly that transitioning from academia to work is almost effortless, at least logistically. I’m still working from home, likely through at least the end of May, if not longer. Instead of Zoom classes, it’s Zoom meetings as I get acquainted with ncIMPACT’s work and the projects I’ll be working on this summer. Part of the SOG, ncIMPACT runs applied public policy and research projects all over the state, building collaboratives in order to implement solutions to complex community problems. I’m curious to see how ncIMPACT straddles the academia-practitioner divide, aiming for direct implementation of research rather than the traditional route of academic publishing.

I’ll be working on at least four different projects this summer: their UNC-TV series, the Opioid Response Project, their federally-funded social capital project, and the EITC in NC project. Run by two different project managers, Emily and Brooklyn, these interesting projects will keep me busy as I work with a variety of staff and clients. I’m thrilled to have found an organization that will allow me to stretch both my social work and public administration muscles, doing research, policy, assessments, interventions, and evaluations of communities and systems.

In my first week, I’m already writing blogs for UNC-TV, attending virtual town halls, and getting involved with a literature review process for the social capital project, plus a variety of meetings to learn more about how I will be contributing to each of the four projects this summer. I can’t wait to see what I learn and accomplish as I look towards my final year of grad school. Let’s get started!

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.

Adapting to Change

We’ve all been inundated with news about the coronavirus crisis that the world is coping with these days. Throughout the ordeal, public administrators remain on the front lines of the pandemic serving in many roles at all levels of government. Living through a time of crisis is unsettling, but I am encouraged by the committed public servants I interact with each week both in my PWE and in the MPA program. Students showed up in class this week despite working twelve (or more) hour days responding to the crisis. They work in local budget offices and health departments and emergency management. They serve in state and federal agencies, preparing their communities for the ongoing situation and the recovery that will follow.

Two weeks ago (has it really been only two weeks?) I drove down Main Street in Canton on the way to my PWE and noticed that downtown was thriving. Workers stood on ladders erecting signs for new businesses. Shoppers passed through the doors of boutiques. Tourists sat on the patios of the local restaurants. Since then, measures taken in response to COVID-19 have resulted in rapid and dramatic changes. When I drove through town this morning, the sidewalks were deserted. Except for a small number of residents venturing out for supplies or employees traveling to their shifts, the streets remain noticeably quieter.

Changes brought on by this pandemic have fundamentally altered the way we live, forcing everyone to adapt. In many ways, being a student in the MPA@UNC program has prepared me for working in the current environment. As other managers, employees, and students face a learning curve transitioning to remote work and distant learning, my PWE and school work continue uninterrupted. Like everyone else, I wake up wondering what changes the day’s news will bring. And, of course, the coronavirus has disrupted much of what I do every day. I am forced to balance new responsibilities while remaining focused on finishing my PWE, writing research papers, giving final presentations, and completing final exams. For now, though, I am grateful to be part of a program that has enabled me to adjust to uncertainty and confront new challenges every day.

Canton Confronts COVID-19

The cleaning supplies aisle at a local retailer.

This week, I saw a governor being interviewed about the coronavirus. He described his state’s response to the outbreak and emphasized the need for competent public service leadership during the crisis. “This is government,” he explained. “This is what it’s about. This is the mobilization, the skill, the expertise to manage a government.” Across the US, as Americans are adjusting to a new way of life, public servants are stepping up to tackle the challenges brought on by COVID-19. As we know, there are capable, well-trained experts in local, state, and federal government who have the skills necessary to effectively respond to nearly any situation. The American public can always depend upon public services to continue, even when life around them seems to be coming to a halt.

Other than a run on the grocery stores, life in the town of Canton continues (almost) as normal. Children are still in school. The baristas at the local coffee shop are still serving up lattes. And people are still coming to town hall to schedule services and pay bills. Today I met with the town manager to talk about Canton’s response to COVID-10. The town’s emergency services employees have been preparing for the arrival of COVID-19 for weeks by practicing extra precautionary measures. After a discussion about cleaning methods and hand washing, my conversation with the town manager naturally shifted to collaboration. Officials in neighboring Buncombe County declared a state of emergency yesterday, prompting surrounding municipalities to release recommendations and information about their own approaches to the outbreak. In Haywood County, local and county officials along with nonprofit organizations are coordinating responses, ensuring that they are adequately prepared and that public services go uninterrupted. Despite the stress of the last week, completing the PWE during this ordeal has been a great learning experience in crisis management. Seeing local government function effectively is reassuring at a time like this. Dedicated public servants who continue to show up everyday offer an encouraging reminder that life goes on even in the midst of chaos.

Remember to wash your hands! If you need directions or inspiration, check out Gloria Gaynor’s instructional video.

Women in Local Government Part Three: Alderwoman Kristina Smith on Having the Courage to Lead

Throughout February, my posts have featured women in local government, focusing on their roles and highlighting their contributions to the community. This week, we meet Kristina Smith, alderwoman for the town of Canton.

Many individuals point to a specific event that inspired them to enter public service. Hopeful MPA applicants may include descriptions of inspirational experiences in their personal statements. Politicians often tell stories describing encounters that motivated them to seek office. When I asked Alderwoman Kristina Smith what compelled her to enter public service, she pointed to a series of events. The city council meeting she attended as a young girl. The speech given by a president calling on individuals to get involved to make their communities a better place. An unexpected opportunity to lead in her new town.

The city council meeting Kristina attended as a young girl scout marked her first exposure to local government. She was struck by the diversity of leadership on the council. Following this experience, she realized serving in a leadership position does not require a specific type of person with a certain set of skills. Anyone can lead if they are willing to take on the challenge! Years later, Kristina moved to Canton with her family and became involved in her community. When the opportunity to run for local office arose, Kristina accepted

the challenge and was elected in 2017. In her new role as Alderwoman, Kristina enjoys engaging the community, problem solving, and always searching for the best outcome for Canton, regardless of the issue.



Given her experience, I asked Kristina if she had any advice to share with women interested in local government careers. Don’t doubt yourself or question your abilities, she said, “rather than asking yourself ‘can I lead?’ tell yourself, ‘I’m ready to lead.’” She emphasized the power of transferable skills and how beneficial they can be in taking on new opportunities. “There isn’t a single role for you,” she remarked, “think about all of your experiences and how they complement different roles.” As Kristina learned in that city council meeting, anyone can lead. The only limitations you have are the ones you put on yourself.