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