This Week’s Pet Projects

I have often heard local government employees explain that they love their jobs because each day brings new challenges and opportunities. The same has been true in my PWE. Last week, the town manager sent me an unexpected and fun assignment. I planned to start this week continuing my research on local ordinances but instead had the opportunity to write a report for the town’s planned upcoming dog park. Prior to this week, I knew nothing about dog parks, so I really enjoyed researching the topic and writing the report. Did you know the top citizen priorities for dog parks are typically cleanliness, shade, and water? I discovered best practices related to everything from amenities to location to surface materials!

Through my PWE, I am learning more about the range of responsibilities local government employees tackle every day. In Canton, that means completing tasks like delivering recycling bins, meeting with local business leaders, and planning events. As I mentioned previously, I have no local government experience. Completing my internship in a small town with a limited number of staff provides me with the opportunity to gain a broad perspective of duties and expectations required of town employees. While functioning with a smaller staff can be challenging, it also means that town employees develop a diverse skill set. The dog park is part of a larger parks and recreation improvement project, and I’m excited to see the transformation. As I continue in my PWE, I look forward to sharing with you the details of other assignments that come my way. With multiple projects planned, it’s an exciting time to be working with the Town of Canton!

The Town Code

Week two has been filled with research. Lots of research. In my first day on the job, I was handed a large binder containing the Town Code of Ordinances. I spent a couple of days reading through the binder familiarizing myself with the Town’s laws. The Town Code is available online, but I liked having the binder. It felt very official. Starting off with this assignment turned out to be really constructive given my lack of experience in local government and limited knowledge of the laws in my Town. After all, it would be difficult to work effectively without knowing the Town rules, right?


One of the benefits of completing my PWE here in the town manager’s office is the opportunity to work on projects like the one I completed this week. After taking the time to read the Canton Code of Ordinances, I began conducting research on sections that town officials expressed an interest in updating. My report this week related to the Town Sign Ordinance. I reviewed the current Sign Ordinance and researched ordinances in comparable municipalities then provided some recommendations in a report to the town manager. Throughout this process, I spent a lot of time searching Municode, reviewing Supreme Court cases, and reading through state statutes. Next week the Locating Legal Resources Activity is due in my Law class, and after all this research in my PWE, I am much better prepared to tackle that assignment! My experience this week also confirmed just how relevant that Law class is to a public service career. Next week I will be working on a really fun project that I am excited to share with you! Stay tuned!

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.

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.



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.



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!


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!

So Long Salisbury

ron swanson television GIF

Well, it has been a couple of weeks since I finished up my internship with the City of Salisbury, and I can honestly say I still miss this amazing experience (we can pretend that I saved the last post until some time had passed, and not that I left you all hanging because I was enjoying the beach). If you ever get a chance to visit or work in Salisbury, NC, I highly recommend it (like 5 stars on Yelp to those of you who still use Yelp).

And to all those thinking about a career in local government, RUN! Haha, just kidding. Honestly, I would certainly suggest an internship where you can see multiple departments, especially if you aren’t quite sure where you want to start your career like me. Although, I still refuse to admit to a favorite department in Salisbury, no matter how many times they ask – YOU WERE ALL MY FAVORITE!!!!

I sign off ready to finish my last year of the MPA program at UNC and start my hard core, nerdy, local government career. Hope I see some of y’all out there!!!

Week Eleven: The Final Chapter

This is my last post for the summer, and it is very bittersweet for me. I have loved working for the City of Durham, and my last day of work this Friday will be an emotional one. I have had the best supervisors (seen below), worked on projects of great interest to me, and have been able to network with more passionate local government employees than I can count.

As a final project, I have two presentations I will be sharing with the Director and Assistant Director of the Budget & Management Services Department. First, I will give a brief explanation of what I have done this summer. And second, I will give an in-depth presentation about the local sales tax research project I was tasked with. After combing through data from 2008-2019 and running a variety of Pivot Tables, I feel ready to present my findings.

We have several local sales tax revenues that come into the City of Durham, which have been designated to us by the state. Articles 39, 40, 42, and 44 give explanations about where the money is coming from, and where it is allocated. One of my charts, explaining how revenues have changed over time, can be seen below. If you want to see more of my charts and tables, feel free to reach out to me.

When I first started my professional work experience, I was desperate for any recommendations people would have for me. So check out my tips for starting a new job or internship!

          1. Watch as much stand-up comedy the night before to get you relaxed before the stressful first day
          2. Find ways to connect with people in and out of your department, especially other interns
          3. Volunteer to work on every project that interests you because no matter what it will be a learning opportunity
          4. Write down all of your best memories, and ALSO everyone’s book/podcast recommendations, as they are usually related to the field
          5. If you’re working for a city or county, find ways to learn the ins and outs of each department so you can apply each lesson to your career after graduation

The rest of my week will be filled with tough goodbyes and several final lunches. But in two weeks I’ll have to get back to school and I am (shockingly) excited about it. I cannot wait to apply what I learned in the field to the classroom. Now I’m one step closer to making change on a local level. Let’s do this thing.

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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!

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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.

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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!”


Week Ten: City of Durham Ride-A-Longs

My supervisors have been incredibly supportive of me getting a well-rounded local government experience. One of their goals as part of my time in Durham, was for me to have several ride-a-long opportunities. As the summer has gone on, I have been able to meet with Inspections, Public Affairs, Solid Waste, Police, and more.


For my Inspections ride-a-long, I was with a member of the building inspections team. They generally look at the framework for incoming businesses and new homes. This division recently started using GIS to map out their route each morning to determine where they needed to go. Previously, they would have to create their own map, which added about an hour every day. By creating this system, it has increased productivity and allowed for more inspections per day to be accomplished.

On this ride I learned more about the City of Durham, and all of the moving parts that go into accomplishing a project. For example, for a house turning into an Airbnb that is changing its basic structure, at each stage of the changes, all divisions of Inspections must go to the site to approve their work. This can create “red tape” but ensures that all structures are as safe as possible.

Public Affairs

One of the jobs of the Public Affairs Department within the City Manager’s Office is to run the live-streams of the City Council meetings. Although at first it might seem simple, once you get a behind-the-scenes preview, you can better understand the complications. There are six different cameras, on at all times, and two people need to be in the back room monitoring them the whole time. Additionally, someone not on-site works on the closed captions the entire time. There is usually a delay in speech, and that is because they are on a call listening to the meeting. City Council nights can be exhausting for those who stay to create the televised session, but it adds to transparency.

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Solid Waste

This was an INCREDIBLE experience. I really got a better understanding of the City of Durham by spending four hours on a garbage truck. I was on one of the “exempt” trucks, which means that the truck picks up garbage from a resident’s address if they cannot take it to the curb themselves. These trucks go to each home, find the trash can, and empty it in the back of the truck personally. I did not even know this was offered by the City of Durham, and was in awe of the benefits it provides.

During my ride-a-long, I was on the recycling truck, and realized just how inaccurately people recycle. Although I’ve always known the process isn’t perfect, I was surprised by some of the things people considered to be recyclable materials. Durham’s Solid Waste Department is working hard to educate people about how to get rid of their trash, but hopefully more people will catch on.



The Police Department was one of the ride-a-longs I was most excited for, and it lived up to the hype. Although it was raining and nothing too wild happened, I gained valuable knowledge on how the department functions. First, all issues that are called in need to have someone dispatched. Someone has to deal with the situation, even if it may seem insignificant. Further, a lot of people call the Police for problems that officers cannot do anything about it. For example, if two people bought something together and one of them takes it, the Police cannot file a theft report, because they technically obtained it together.

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If you ever get a chance to attend any sort of ride-a-long, I recommend you take it! You’ll learn more than you could imagine.