What does Public Administration have to do with Ukraine?

This blog post was written by current MPA student Stephen Thompson.

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Everyone I know is glued to their phones, getting updates about the situation in Ukraine. Personally, I check the news when I wake up, a couple times throughout the day, and before I go to sleep at night. Anything more than that would be paralyzing for me, and anything less than that would be anxiety inducing. It’s a delicate balance. Unfortunately, this is a strategy I’ve developed over the last few years of national and international crises. To some extent, having a personal strategy response to world-changing tragedies is a rite of passage for millennials. The School of Government actually hosts a microsite for NC Emergency Management professionals HERE. These days, it’s not hard to see how government interacts with our daily lives and abstract concepts of liberties, freedoms, and bureaucracy are part of the national lexicon, while billions of people across the United States look to public administrators to hear updates on mask mandates, international conflict, and everything in between. For better or for worse, this is the age of Public Administrators.

            My article this week was going to be about Marriage Licenses; I’m getting married in a couple of weeks, but in light of current world affairs it felt trite, and frankly insensitive to ignore Russia’s attack on Ukraine to discuss the idiosyncrasies of Record of Deeds offices in different counties, and whether the issuance of marriage licenses was an intrusion into citizen’s lives or a reasonable regulation of federal tax policy. Strangely it doesn’t seem relevant. Americans have the most access to news—local, national, and international today than at any point in history. News is so ubiquitous that an entire subgenre of comedy has been dedicated to lampooning it [The Daily Show, Samantha B, Last Week Tonight, the list goes on…]. And while yes, the news has always been a source of material for comedians through impressions of politicians and hot takes of current events, this subgenre seems to subvert the punchline and just give updates on global events in a humorous, or even just palatable way. Some studies actually suggest that more and more young adults [that’s not us anymore, millennials] are becoming informed of news events through satire news programming. Honestly, I’m not sure I’m concerned about that.

Society, at least American society, has so well-defined civic service that there are several archetypes of just public servants in our collective consciousness. Whether it’s the sleazy politician, or the “make a difference in my community” council members or even the DMV Sloth from Zootopia (psss, that’s a public administrator), most of us can think of what a few different types of public servants look like. I think it’s good that these roles are so visible they’ve become fodder for humor. Likewise, I think it’s good that there are so many streams of information available—one of which has become a self-referential parody of itself, which now, in it of itself provides the news to millions of Americans. And now at this moment, during the largest land war in Europe since World War II, it seems more relevant than ever that they are so present in our society. I don’t mean to imply we’ve achieved the epitome of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, or even that we’ve figured out the best method to evaluate government programs [psss it’s not Randomized Control Trials on consumers of public services]. We’ve got a long way to go, but what I do mean to say is this:

Our government is only as good as we make it. The more we put into it through electoral participation, political discourse, and even career administrating, the more we get out of it. It’s inspiring to me that we as a nation are so plugged into current events far and near that we’re developing new ways to digest that information, and that we have so many visible examples of public servants [some more flattering than others] in our entertainment sphere. This doesn’t illustrate the difference between Russian and American politics, or even begin to unpack the damage done to public institutions by western European oligarchs [or American ones for that matter], but during times like this, it’s hard not to appreciate the progress we’ve made. Today the world stands with Ukraine, and American Public Administrators are the ones that deliver that message of support. –And that is why I was drawn to public administration, to help do the things we all know need to be done.

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.

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.

 

What is a PWE?

If you have ever looked into obtaining your MPA at UNC, you may have come across the acronym ‘PWE’ while browsing our curriculum or attending a webinar. The PWE, which stands for Professional Work Experience, is one of the most important parts of our program and distinguishes us from other programs because it is a required component in our curriculum.  A lot of programs out there don’t require an experiential component to their curriculum where students have to go out and practice what they learn in the classroom.

The Professional Work Experience or PWE is (in the most simplest terms) our version of an internship. But, it really is so much more.  It is the opportunity to apply the leadership theories you study in class to a current and relevant public sector work environment.  The experience is meant to be high level (no coffee fetching here) and provide our students an opportunity to cultivate their leadership or project management skills in a practical setting.

Summer is a popular time for many of our students to complete their Professional Work Experiences, so we’d like to take the opportunity over the next few weeks to have some of our current students write about their PWE’s.  We have 34 students who are currently completing the PWE requirement.  Our students represent placements across local, state, and the federal governments as well as nonprofit organizations and the private sector.  See the list below for some of our Summer 2021 placement sites, and enjoy the posts by our students over the next few weeks sharing their PWE experiences.  Learn about the type of work their doing, the impact they are having, and think about how this could be you one day!

Buncombe County – Emergency Management Services

Town of Henderonville

Community Worx

USDA Rural Development Division

Town of Morrisville

Town of Chapel Hill

Town of Holly Springs

Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness

Dogwood Health Trust

Durham Management

Triangle J Council Of Governments

Town of Hillsborough

Orange County Human Resources

Town of Apex

Families Together

County of Hoke Board Of Education

United Way of Anderson County

UNC-CH Division of Finance and Budget

Virginia Coastal Policy Center

Rural Forward NC

North Olympic Healthcare Network

New Friends New Life

City of Winston-Salem

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

The Census and Data-Driven Decision Making!

With National Census Day (April 1) upon us, I wanted to talk about how important Census responses and data are for public administrators.

picture of a cartoon city

State and local governments, and even nonprofits, can use census data for descriptive analyses to describe the demographic diversity within a jurisdiction or  assessments to understand the communities needs and target program and policy efforts effectively. Governments can use the data to help with planning related to public-policy decision making, including the day-to-day decision-making process. 

Here are some ways that public administrators around you have used Census data: 

  • Reapportionment and Redistricting: Census data can be used to comply and enforce laws related to reapportionment and redistricting. For example, the race question on the Census becomes useful for local governments compliance with and enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. To learn more, check out this information
  • Community Planning and Development: Census data can be used at the city-wide level to prepare and update general plans like land use and housing elements and for infrastructure planning. To learn more, check out this information
  • Social Services: Census data can be used to assess the need of social service programs. For example, Head Start programs are mandated to serve families with the greatest need. Data from the Census Bureau, through the Census or the American Community Survey, are used to certify eligibility for federal and state funding of the Head Start program and to target areas where the program is needed. To learn more, check out this information
  • School Districts: Census data can help school districts develop demographic profiles of the students and community to better understand their educational needs. For example, this can help schools identify the need for bilingual instruction programs and other special services that may be warranted in the schools. To learn more, check out this information
  • New Service Justifications: Similarly to the above statements for schools, nonprofits and local governments can use Census data to create demographic profiles to justify new service provisions. To learn more, check out this information

Census data can serve so many purposes; these were just a few! So please remember to complete your 2020 Census! This has a huge impact on what public administrators will understand about our communities for the next 10 years. 

Complete your 2020 Census online at my2020census.gov, by phone at 844-330-2020, or by mail when the physical questionnaire arrives in mid-April. 

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.

Professional Work Experience in Papertown

On Monday, I began my PWE in the office of the town manager in Canton, North Carolina. Canton is located in Haywood County just twenty miles outside of Asheville. Surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains. Canton attracts adventure seekers who enjoy hiking the surrounding trails that include popular landmarks like Cold Mountain, floating down the Pigeon River that runs through town, or visiting downtown businesses that feature delicious southern food and locally made goods. In the center of town sits a large papermill that manufactures Starbucks coffee cups, juice cartons, and other paper products. Due to the central location and large size of the mill, the locals affectionately refer to Canton as “Papertown.”

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Alumni Spotlight – Stephanie Watkins-Cruz ‘18

From time to time, we will be featuring alumni and students in our program.  Mostly so you can hear about what people do with an MPA and what gets them ticking with regards to public service and public administration.  Here is our first!

“Public service is a great way to extend the reach of those fighting for their communities, homes, and livelihood”

Stephanie came into the program passionate about public service and specifically affordable housing and housing insecurities.  “Housing is more than a roof and four walls,” she said. “It involves your surroundings, the health of your environment, and what you have and don’t have access to. At home is where your identity takes root.”

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