UNC MPA Student Jennifer Taylor-Moneagudo Mora returns home to Virginia for a PWE with the Mayor’s office in the City of Richmond.

This post was written by current UNC MPA student Jennifer Taylor-Monteagudo Mora.

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Hello All!

My name is Jennifer Taylor-Monteagudo Mora. I am from Prince George, Virginia and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2009 with a Bachelors degree in Political Science with a concentration in Government and Public Affairs. Upon graduation I held many jobs due to the economic situation the country was in during that time.

UNC MPA student Jennifer Taylor-Monteagudo Mora



I ultimately found myself teaching in Houston, Texas where my passion to help communities on a local level flourished. In this position I taught elementary reading, writing, and social studies. After one year teaching it was brought to my attention that there was a high level of English language learners in our school that were not properly serviced because many teachers were unable to pass the certification exam for this specialty. I studied over the summer and passed that exam. This proved to be a turning point and where my educational expertise began to focus on immigrant communities and providing quality education to truly diverse communities while respecting and embracing cultural differences.

In this role I was able to represent my school district for large conferences on English Language Acquisition and began my path to educating educators on how to bridge the gaps for students that speak other languages. Fast forward five years and I returned to my home state of Virginia. In Virginia while still teaching I began to work with the English as a Second Language (ESL) department to reach out to parents and inform them on the United States educational system. This is where I began to flourish. I reignited my love for community outreach, combined with my love of education and learning. While my love to work with children and their families still exists, my passion for the community on a more wholistic level was not being completely fulfilled.

I decided to finally apply go back to school to obtain my masters degree. I knew I did not want to get a degree in education. I did not want to limit my community impact to a school or school district, I wanted to improve the community for everyone. I began my MPA at Chapel Hill in Fall 2020. This program was perfect for me, it allowed me to continue to work fulltime and still pursue my educational ambitions. The program has proven to be very interactive even on the virtual platform with amazing classmates and professors that keep that sense of a close community even when people are on different coasts.

I have been afforded this wonderful opportunity to participate in the City of Richmond Mayor’s Fellows Internship as my Professional Work Experience component of the MPA program. In this internship I am working with the City Treasurer on multiple tasks and a project. I am excited about this Professional Work Experience (PWE) as it is a great opportunity to learn new skills and build on the foundation that I have already developed in my career. My mentor is highly energetic and passionate about serving her constituents. I look forward to all of the knowledge she is able to give through this experience. The merging of working with elected officials, the public, and public servants is a perfect mixture of the reality of working in local government and I am excited to embrace the experience.

Tiny Homes for Raleigh, Giant Leap for Local Government

This post was written by current MPA student Stephen Thompson


Tiny homes coming to Raleigh, NC

If you’re like me, you have only a cursory understanding of “tiny houses,” –the somewhat recent trend in single family dwelling construction which features structures of about 600 square footage or less. This movement has been sweeping the first world by storm for the past decade and it’s hard to have not encountered the term at least once via conversation, real estate focused television programs, or obnoxious magazine covers in the supermarket. I’ve primarily seen it discussed on TLC-style reality TV shows which focus on younger couples looking to downsize their consumer-centric lifestyles and “get back the basics.” Noble as that motivation is, it has always felt very bourgeoisie to me. Just the notion of, [read in a posh Northeastern accent] “I’ve had so much access to stuff in my life that I’m just tired of buying things, so I’ve chosen to purposefully not buy as many things, because that will make me a better person.” In spite of my cultural objections, the city of Raleigh did something recently which made me see tiny houses in a different light.

This week the city council of Raleigh, NC unanimously approved the use of “tiny homes” within city limits, a building regulation not often approved by cities. As an MPA student, this piqued my interest. The city council is promoting tiny houses as an affordable option in the midst of the triangle-area housing crisis, which has many first-time home buyers priced out, and those who can afford the inflated prices having to put in offers on homes sight-unseen, due to sky rocketing demand. Even before the pandemic the tri-city area was listed as one of the most expensive markets in the county. Since the Covid scourge, it’s not uncommon to hear about houses selling before they even get to their first open house event. Reporting on the council’s decision, WRAL noted that a new construction tiny house with 300 square feet in the Raleigh area can sell for as little as $65,000—water and electric hook ups included. With this new zoning regulation going into effect in 90 days, this one council vote is poised to have a big impact on the economics of local homeownership. I have to say, this application of a modern trend sounds like something that can really make a difference in this area.

Land and home ownership is often the first way families can acquire and build generational wealth in this county and with so many young families being priced out by the pandemic-boom, this is beginning to become a serious threat to millennials and Gen Z’ers wealth acquisition. In regard to the long levity of a city or community, drops in homeownership—frequently the most valuable asset upon which residents pay property taxes, means less money for municipal budgets and public services. Meanwhile, less generational wealth results in more folks using the aforementioned underfunded public services. To subvert a common expression, a falling tide strands all ships. The city council are wise to take note of this problem down the road and take “tiny” steps [excuse the pun] to fix it early.

Public servants in the 21st century are faced with new and unique problems markedly different from those of previous generations. To address these new situations, we have to use new tools. I applaud the Raleigh city council’s out-of-the-box approach to this public issue, and I look forward to seeing if this lets a little air out of the ballooning housing market bubble. I’m going to be in the market for a house in a few years and who knows, maybe a tiny house could make a perfect starter tiny home.

UNC MPA Alumni Spotlight: Lyman Collins, Arts Evangelist, Class of 1986,

This post was written by Stephen Thompson, MPA Current Student


In 1986, Lyman Collins was finishing his Master of Public Administration degree from UNC. In 1986, I was but a twinkle in my mother’s eye. In the years that followed Lyman would go on to work in and for the arts at nationally recognized schools such as the University of Virginia, Western Illinois University, and UNC-Greensboro. I, myself would go on to be born, eventually learning to walk and talk. In August of this year I was introduced to Lyman through my UNC mentor (another MPA alum); Lyman was my mentor’s mentor. I was excited to talk with my grand-mentor about how the MPA program shaped his approach to public administration, how he’s seen the program evolve over the years, and what advice he has for scrappy young 1st years like myself. Ever an insightful figure, Lyman shed some light on how connections are made in the public sector, emphasized that hard data is what wins over public officials, and to always keep an eye out for opportunities.

What drew you to want to be a mentor/what keeps you coming back?

When I entered the MPA program (back in the stone age….) I was the only one in my class looking for a career in the arts – and, while the faculty was supportive of my direction, it was a rare one. Serendipitously, the NC Center for Public Policy Research was focusing on arts policy in state government and had a graduate assistantship opportunity available. I wrote three articles for their publication NC Arts Insight: “The North Carolina Arts Council”, “Baskets & Ballet: Making Arts Policy in North Carolina” and “Federal Budget Cuts to Culture: How Keen the Axe?”. A few years later an MPA student reached out to me as she had used info from the articles in her research. It was great to know there were others in the program with a goal of arts administration. Since then, as there have been more and more such students, I have been happy to provide perspectives and encouragement. I firmly believe the arts to be an important part of government services at all levels and am glad to continue to help graduates spread that message.

How have you seen the program change over the years?

The most obvious change, of course, was going to a full two-year curriculum. […] It does seem like the program is broader now and accommodates more and more students who are not necessarily looking to just become city managers.

What trends do you see continuing in the future for Arts Advocacy/Public Admin?

Overall, I have seen more and more municipal governments come to understand the role the arts can play as part of expected levels of service. More and more you can see that parks and recreation departments have added “cultural resources” (or something similar) to their titles. Or sometimes cities have established stand-alone cultural services departments. Also, it has become much more common for there to be a wider array of government grants (at all levels) available to support cultural programs.

One of the most visible trends has been the growing number of public art programs across the country. This aspect has become more and more associated with good planning and effective ways to create a sense of place. In some places (Cary is one example) having a municipal public art program has encouraged private developers to incorporate public art pieces into their developments. Probably the most publicized trend is the emphasis on the arts as an engine of economic development. … [T]he most recent [American’s For The Arts] survey … was released in 2016 and showed that for North Carolina the non-profit arts industry employed almost 72,000 people with a total spending of $2.1 billion which generated almost $107,000,000 in state government revenue and an additional $94,500,000 in local government revenue. Obviously, the pandemic has had an effect […] but I think it is safe to say that the arts will be back as an important economic driver.

What is some advice you’d give current MPA students looking to get into arts advocacy?

Make sure to understand the growing role the arts are continuing to play in local government. Be prepared to articulate how the arts really are a vital (and increasingly expected) part of governmental responsibilities. To that end, make sure to do the research with arts professionals and artists in your communities. Also understand the national picture – and Americans for the Arts is an excellent resource in that regard: www.americansforthearts.org

What is your next personal/professional goal for 2022?

Upon my retirement, I acquired the moniker “arts evangelist” which is an apt description of how I hope my post-career career pans out. I have always believed in the inherent power of the arts and have been exploring projects to keep my focus on spreading this gospel. To that end I have continued to be involved in a variety of arts related activities and organizations and use that involvement to help others find their voices. I hope I can continue to be a resource for young professionals and others looking to keep motivated in their careers. My most recent examples include service on the board of directors for Triangle ArtWorks, service on the planning committee for Arts North Carolina’s Arts Day next March and volunteer coordinator of the North Carolina Presenters Consortium’s Art Market in November.

A Professional Work Experience in a Nonprofit Supporting Economic Development

Current MPA student Francesco Tassi writes about his Professional Work Experience this summer.  Francesco is a current student in the oncampus format of the MPA at UNC.  He is originally from Florence, Italy and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame. Francesco’s main interest is supporting public organizations that promote the development of distressed regions and workers.


This post was written by Francesco Tassi.

I first heard of my PWE, the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness (CREC), from Dr. Dabson, a Research Fellow at the School of Government, and in Prof. Morgan’s elective Managing Economic Development. Having researched economic development strategies of North Carolina regional councils for our MPA Research Methods class, I actually ran into CREC’s consulting work for regional councils early on in my MPA. CREC is a nonprofit based in Washington D.C. that develops data products, conferences, policy academies, and consults for states and federal agencies on economic and workforce development. As I write this blog post, I find myself in D.C. about to embark on a new project with CREC to assist the U.S. Economic Development Administration in aligning the state and regional economic development strategies of several states—a far (but related) cry from my MPA research. This summer I helped develop an economic empowerment index to improve the economic mobility of frontline workers in Colorado, modeled the economic impact of Department of Defense (DoD) spending in Louisiana, updated CREC’s state business incentives database for fifteen states (including North Carolina), interviewed Appalachian Regional Commission grantees on best practices for recovery-to-work ecosystems, drafted a weekly newsletter for an association of federal statistical agencies, helped plan and run a federal data conference sponsored by Facebook, and mapped DoD appropriations to strengthen the pipeline between university research and military applications in Texas.
Asides from vastly increasing my knowledge of labor market data (a highlight was informing a successful collaboration on data with Brookings) and related software (IMPLAN, Tableau), CREC’s projects exposed me intimately to a fundamental question every practitioner in the public sector must face—how do we best use and communicate data to inform public organizations? Whether it’s the baseline year for military retiree spending I chose to input into a complex software to inform Louisiana’s legislature, or demographic industry variables debated with colleagues for Colorado’s index—what I cherished was that every decision had input and process. Despite working for a nonprofit, I realized that bureaucratic process, or feedback loops and reviews with clients and colleagues regarding data use and inclusion, is the backbone of all that is good and useful. For both my Texas and Colorado projects I pushed for certain data that took more time to collect. Despite possibly making me the ‘annoying’ intern, I believe this led to slightly more accurate tools for the public sector—which brings me joy.

I’m thankful for Prof. Szypszak teaching us Nexis-Lexis; it came in handy for updating statutes on states’ business incentives. It’s also easy for an MPA student to underestimate their first-year communications class. But when you’re building a 40-variable index for 64 counties and county commissioners, state-level workforce development and higher education departments, as well as industry sector partnerships across Colorado, you fully appreciate that everything needs to be simplified and communicate stories to be useful, despite being complex at its core. Seeing that the work I am helping to create is impacting public agencies, and at the forefront of innovatively tackling economic development challenges across the U.S., is immensely rewarding. Experiencing our nation’s capital despite the lingering presence of COVID-19 has also been a blessing. Commuting every day on the metro is a highlight, something I never thought possible in the age of remote work. I enjoyed my PWE so much that I will continue working with CREC part-time going into my second year as an MPA-MCRP dual degree candidate. I look forward to dive deeper into labor market data, continuously learning from (and deeply thankful for) dedicated colleagues and supervisors at CREC—two of which happen to be Tarheels. Even in D.C. you can’t be too far from UNC!

Navigating Different Roles in the Nonprofit World

Current oncampus student Carly Lappas writes about her PWE this summer with Rural Forward NC, a nonprofit ogranization that works to provide healthier, more sustainable rural communities within NC with an increased capacity to solve their own health problems.  Carly Lappas is from Maine and attended undergrad at Bowdoin College.

This post was written by Carly Lappas.

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Non-profit organizations have always interested me because of their ability to fill the gaps between services offered by the public and private sectors. Prior to beginning my MPA degree, I worked for a large and well-established workforce development non-profit in Boston, Massachusetts. When looking for my professional work experience (PWE) I knew I wanted to stay in the non-profit sector, but was interested in learning more about small, grassroots organizations and how they interact with their communities. With guidance from the MPA career services team I found a job posting for Rural Forward North Carolina (RFNC) and knew I wanted to apply. RFNC in a non-profit that supports leaders and organizations in rural communities across the state to help them build capacity and identify opportunities for community collaboration. Many of the programs RFNC assists are start-up, grassroot organizations with deep connections to the communities they serve.

My role at RFNC is focused on Beaufort County, located in the eastern region of the state. Alongside my manager, Andy Shoenig, a UNC MPA alumnus, I help to facilitate two county-wide coalitions dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of the county. I also recently started supporting Andy in his work with the North Carolina Inclusive Disaster Recovery Network. These coalitions bring together nonprofit directors, government representatives, church leaders, health care providers, and community organizers so that they can learn from and bolster each other’s work. Supporting these coalitions allows me to better understand different types of organizations and how they can work together, while building my skills as a facilitator and consultant.

 

As I enter into my final weeks with RFNC before classes start up again at UNC, I am so appreciative of the experiences I have had and the community leaders I have met. With COVID restrictions slowly easing, I have been able to travel to Beaufort County to meet with community partners in person and observe their organizations in action. The work they do is reshaping their county and the resources available within their communities, and I am glad RFNC can be thought partners in their work. While I was, and still am, certain I want to build my career in the non-profit sector, my PWE experience has opened my eyes to the multiple avenues I can take, both in terms of the size and scope of organizations, as well as my role, whether it be direct service or consultation.

 

Budgeting at a Local Government in North Carolina

Current oncampus student MaryBeth Spoehr writes about her PWE this summer with the Town of Holly’s Budget and Finance Department.  MaryBeth Spoehr is from Wisconsin and attended undergrad at Michigan Tech University.

This post was written by MaryBeth Spoehr.

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Observing an electrical inspection at the new UNC Rex Hospital in Holly Springs, NC.

From conversations with my Alumni mentor and the Career Services Director, I felt confident going into Professional Work Experience (PWE) interviews that I wanted to work in a local government budget and management position. I find budget and management to be captivating because of the importance of the budget to each local government and I wanted an experience in a position I am passionate about working in now and in the future. I chose to do my PWE with the Town of Holly Spring, NC in the Budget and Management division. This position allows me to grow my abilities as a budget analyst and enables me to gain real-world insights on topics I have learned during my MPA studies such as strategic planning, performance management, and budget development.

On site at the Waste Water Treatment Plant in Holly Springs, NC.

One of the unique aspects of the budget and management division is that it interacts frequently with all other departments within the town. As a budget analyst, it is important to understand the role and responsibilities of each of the other departments. To help me gain a better understanding, I have participated in several informative tours of different departments in Holly Springs including the Development Services Department, Waste Water Treatment Plant, and the Building Safety and Inspections Division. Through these experiences I will be able to better understand and communicate the needs of the different departments with real knowledge of their duties, responsibilities, and resources. I am also working on the Budget Proposal for the next fiscal year including the Capital Improvement Plans and utilization of the American Rescue Plan. It is my hope that these diverse experiences will lead me into a lifelong career in local government.

Welcoming our NEW MPA students!

A couple of weeks ago, we had 22 bright and eager students begin our online MPA program, and we couldn’t be more excited to introduce them to you. With most of them averaging 10 years or more of work experience and 27% of them holding advanced degrees, we are proud to be the next step in their personal and professional journeys.

As always, we like to showcase the breadth and diversity of our cohort in terms of backgrounds, interest areas, diversity, and interests. Here are a few of their noteworthy mentions:

1 international student joining us all the way from Jakarta, India
1 Superior Court Judge from California
1 Police Lieutenant from the City of Portland, OR
4 practicing attorneys
4 health care administrators (UNC Health Care and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Indian Health Service, and United Network for Organ Sharing)
1 Local Government Employee Match Scholarship Recipient
5 currently working for the federal governemnt
2 Active Military
1 Marine Biology Educator

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. We are so excited to have all 22 of you, and we promise you’re going to gain so much from this program.

Applying to grad school is a big decision in and of itself, but doing so in the midst of a pandemic and the state of our world brings a whole new level of commitment. While some might find themselves with more time to research graduate school and apply, I suspect many of us are still having a hard time focusing on a big thing amidst all of the chaos and uncertainty.

One thing is for certain, never has there been a more critical time for good public administrators and for people to believe in the power of good public administration. Over the last year, we have seen this at the state and federal levels of government with respect to the pandemic and a public health crisis and economic shutdown. And we have seen it at the local level of government with the focus on fair and equitable law enforcement and public safety issues.

So, we are thankful for all the public administrators out there doing their job well. And we are thankful to our newest MPA students for their drive, tenacity, and interest in making better communities! Good luck and welcome to the Carolina family!

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.

Equity and Data-Driven Policy

Equity is a word that is floating around more in media coverage and professional discussions as Black Lives Matter protests continue this week. There are calls for dramatic policy changes to local, state, and federal governments around the issue of policing, but also other areas that can dramatically improve the lives of the historically oppressed – education, employment, social programs, and housing among them. In connection with my post last week, about making systemic change, I chose to write about a tool that can assist policymakers in creating more equitable policy, as well as an example of ncIMPACT’s current work in this arena.

One solution in the equity toolbox is to rely on data-driven policy in order to concentrate resources in the most needed areas, rather than relying on tradition or the judgment of those in power. This data does not just consist of surveys or graphs, but also listening to communities and respecting their expertise and self-determination in order to create policies and programs that fit them and their needs. Although this is often more time-intensive, policy made without the substantive participation of key stakeholders is often less effective, and may not have the intended outcomes for which it was created. ncIMPACT’s study designs often rely on mixed-methods and participatory research in order to discover needs and pilot solutions to equity-related problems, and I am fortunate to be working on several of them this summer.

A screenshot of NVivo, the software I am using to code qualitative responses to the COVID-19 survey (Source)

One such project is the survey that ncIMPACT conducted with local government officials to discover the impact of COVID-19 on their organizations and communities and see how the School of Government can best respond. I will be completing the qualitative analysis of several open-ended questions for the 200 or so respondents from 89 NC counties. This survey will give us the chance to measure, in semi-real time, the impacts of COVID on a state-wide scale, as well as in regions with diverse economies and risk factors for the pandemic. Being able to complete work that will likely directly impact the SOG’s programs and products during this time is a very fulfilling professional experience. Although it may not directly be related to racial equity or police reform, COVID is already having disparate impacts on communities of color, which is likely to continue even after a vaccine is available. Understanding how local governments are responding, and what support they need, is a unique role the SOG can play in mitigating the negative effects of the pandemic and making North Carolina a more equitable place.