Student Spotlight: Mallory Verez

This post was written by current MPA student Stephen Thompson.

Current student Stephen Thompson interviews current student Mallory Verez

In my last post I started to explore one of the unique things about MPA students; that we’re all so diverse, but with some very strong through lines. Continuing down the rabbit hole, I had the pleasure of talking with 2nd year, dual degree (MPA and Law) student Mallory Verez. I’ll have to get around talking with another MPA@UNCer (online student) one of these days, but this week I was thrilled to talk to Mallory about why she chose the MPA program, how public administration fits into a law degree (or the other way around), and how to get past the devil that lurks in the details.  

Mallory is originally from Pittsburgh, PA, but completed her undergrade degree at High Point University in December of 2017. After graduation she returned to the Steel City, eager for some real-world experience, which she found in a service year position with Public Allies where she was placed in an afterschool program focused on youth development. Mallory had finished her undergrad degree knowing that she wanted to continue her studies with the eventual goal of working in neighborhood legal services, but her experiences in the afterschool programs widened her perspective and inspired her to look for a public administration program, as well. Much like Valerie Sauer (see my previous blog post), Mallory began to see the siloed systems of public service worked more as barriers than channels for underserved demographics. After her year was up, she decided to look for a dual degree program.  

Looking for a dual master’s programs in public administration and law certainly narrowed the pool of schools, but after some research Mallory found herself enrolled in UNC. She acknowledged that her aunt used to work for UNC when Mallory was growing up, so she had some familiarity with the area and the school from family visits. But, as any grad student will tell you, after finding the program and getting accepted, the real work begins. Mallory and I commiserated over the loss of our once delightfully open evening schedules, now filled with readings, papers, and classes. Still, in that conversation I found another common thread with her and Valerie, as Mallory talked about the community of the MPA program and dedication of the School of Government faculty.  

Mallory is a full time, on campus student, so her program is divided into four years; a year of the MPA program, two years of the Law program, and the final year with a mixture of MPA and Law classes. In the fall of 2020, amidst a global pandemic, Mallory moved to Chapel Hill and started as a first year MPA student. She relayed the general air of uncertainty which permeated the campus that first semester, but more than that she felt an overwhelming sense of community and understanding which her professors extended to her and her fellow cohort members. “Dr. Berner’s willingness to talk to me about,” she paused, “anything!” and be “someone who was in my corner the whole time,” was really a lifeline. Mallory confessed that she was glad she started with the MPA program, because the Law cohort is much larger, and there are more students to contend with for professor attention.   

Last summer Mallory completed her Professional Work Experience (a requirement and rite of passage for us MPA students), at the Triangle J Council of Government, as the housing intern, where she “did lots of legal research,” as she put it. Research heavy as it was, the experience also introduced her to the wide range of nonprofits in the Triangle Area. She’s even planning on sticking around the area after she graduates to gain more experience at the myriad of interesting and distinctive nonprofits in our area.  

As our conversation drew to an end, I asked Mallory if she had any advice for prospective MPA students (as I am wont to do), and she had some sage advice: “Know why you want to be doing [the program]. It is so easy to get lost in the complexities. Don’t let [all the details] pull you [away] from what you want to do.” I have to say, if I had to distill down the message of the MPA program into one sentence, that about hits the nail on the head. Know why you want to be doing what you’re doing. As I wrap up my 3rd semester in the program, through the details of the course work, and field specific knowledge I’m gaining, I’m starting to see this greater message. The complexities of public administration (of which there are many!) can easily become tree after tree, after tree, which prevents us public servants from seeing the greater forest of our efforts, however I think I’m starting to learn how to navigate this jungle of policy. And with that piece of wisdom from Mallory, I’ll sign off for this week. Remember to keep it all in focus, and drink plenty of water—after all, finals are coming up!  

A PWE in a University Finance and Budgeting Department

Current MPA student Wayne Banks Jr. is from High Point, North Carolina. He attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he received a BS in Business Administration and a BA in Political science. He’s had prior experience working for both for-profit & nonprofit organizations.  Recently, he participated as a PAFR Fellow with the Town of Apex to create its first Popular Annual Financial Report for the Government Financial Officers Association. His journey has now taken him to his Professional Work Experience that he’s sharing through this blog post.

This post was written by Wayne Banks Jr. 


Greetings to all! My name is Wayne Banks Jr. and I am currently a 2nd year online student in the MPA program. The PWE experience can introduce students to opportunities and a practical understanding of the career interests of an individual. For myself, I am interested in the Community Economic Development and Finance & Budgeting career fields that can be a part of Public Administration responsibilities. By way of networking opportunities, I was invited to an interview and received an offer for my PWE as a Budget & Research Analyst at the Finance & Budget Division of UNC Chapel Hill. This opportunity has provided me with a practical experience to the financial responsibilities of a public higher education institution. I am almost half-way through this PWE experience and can tell you that our work in this division is important and exciting.

My position allows me to assist professional staff with responsibilities that relate to financial decision making and delegation of funds to different schools and organizations on campus. Legislative decisions that are made by the North Carolina General Assembly directly affecting how the university leadership can better serve students, local citizens, businesses, and other parties or organizations that benefit from UNC’s services. Also, I would want to confirm that the lessons you learn in class truly will align with the PWE experience that you make. I’ve already seen connections from our courses in Public Finance, Law, Organizational Theory, and Communications in my PWE.

The staff who work with me, and three other interns are welcoming and provide you with very helpful insight on the finance work that the organization is managing on a day-to-day basis. Their support provides me as well as the other interns with important knowledge on how the roles of each department in the division can affect the overall operations of the university. UNC is basically like a little city and this work experience can be applied to job occupations that are related to public finance responsibilities at a Local Government.

After graduation, I am interested in either working for a local government in their budget or economic development department or working for a nonprofit (for-profit) organization that focuses on real estate development and community revitalization efforts. For concluding remarks, I would encourage individuals to be open-minded to learn new things about themselves through their PWE and other opportunities in the MPA Program. Thank you for making time to read my blog post.

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

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

A Professional Work Experience with a Research and Analysis Focus

This post was written by current UNC MPA student Corinne Burda about her professional work experience with Cybercrime Support Network.

——————————————-At the beginning, I was looking for a PWE where I could develop skills in research and analysis. I found that opportunity with Cybercrime Support Network (CSN). CSN is a non-profit organization that works with individuals and businesses who suffered from online scams as well as other cybercrime attacks. They have a network with organizations in both public (ex. DOJ, Congress) and private sectors where they serve as a bridge for the victims.

I interned as a part-time research analyst. I found and presented data relating to current cyber security laws (both domestic and international) and current programs (both private and public). CSN used the research in multiple reports that were submitted to CISA as well as including it in the Cyber Resource Catalog on their website. The Cyber Resource Catalog is a vetted list of the best resources related to particular cybercrime topics and my research resulted in the addition of several state resources to the catalog. In addition, I translated current cyber laws to Spanish for an international project. It allowed justice professionals to quickly understand how their data might be related to data elsewhere in the world. 

The PWE experience with CSN overall introduced me to the global issue with cybercrime and how it has affected billions (especially during the pandemic). It made me realize a possible solution to combat against cybercrime requires an effort between both public and private sectors. It also led me to realize that this is an area in need of public service leadership. This PWE experience overall has given me a chance to utilize my skills that I have gained and discovered throughout the program. In particular, my skills for research and analysis from PUBA 719-720 and PUBA 760. By opening myself to a new opportunity, I was also able to find a mission (combatting cybercrime and promoting justice) I am passionate about that aligned with my skills and values (justice and integrity). Lastly, this PWE experience has shaped my vision for my future career goals in my current job within the Department of Justice as well as within completing the MPA degree.

Some PWE’s (Professional Work Experiences) around Town

Occasionally, we like to feature current MPA students who are in the midst of completing the Professional Work Experience component of the program.  Our PWE’s are similar to an internship except we ensure your projects and duties are 100% leadership oriented because that’s what our program is about .  

This blog post was written by current MPA student Sa’metria Jones about her Professional Work Experience (PWE).  Sa’metria lives a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, currently residing in Clayton, North Carolina, and is a current MPA student in our online format.  She works full time in the North Carolina Office of the Governor as a Policy Advisor.  She is planning to graduate this December.

I am working with the North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) to fulfill my PWE hours for the MPA program. NCBCE is a non-profit organization that operates out of the Office of the Governor and serves as link for North Carolina employers and the education system. NCBCE invests significant time and resources to develop and promote work-based learning initiatives in North Carolina. In early 2020, pre-pandemic and before our lives changed, NCBCE, in partnership with the North Carolina Community Colleges, the Office of the Governor, myFutureNC, and the state Division of Workforce Solutions, launched NC Career Launch—an effort to increase post-secondary attainment and connect students to jobs in high-demand fields. Unfortunately, the pandemic interrupted the initiative’s momentum.  I am working with the Executive Director of NCBCE to elevate NC Career Launch and restore the pre-pandemic momentum. One way we are working to accomplish this goal is by developing youth apprenticeship programs to pilot under NC Career Launch.

For my day job, I work as a Policy Advisor in the North Carolina Office of the Governor. I have a far-reaching policy portfolio that touches several state agencies. Although NCBCE is housed in the Governor’s Office, it functions as its own nonprofit organization. In addition to program development, I thought it would be great to have practical experience working directly with an executive director to learn the ins and outs of nonprofit work. As a state employee and a student completing my PWE with a nonprofit, I have been able to see how the structure of both organizations can either help or hinder progress. In addition to that realization, I have also learned how nonprofits leverage their stakeholders, board members, and flexibility to make connections and promote their initiatives. It has also been rewarding to experience how innovative, proactive, and forward-thinking nonprofit leaders are, and effectively have to be, to accomplish their goals.

My professional and academic background is in law and policy– all in the public sector. However, my experience with NCBCE is unlike one I have had before and compliments my background well. I am unsure of which route I will to take in the future, but I am grateful to have the opportunity to explore the nonprofit world and how it interacts with state and local government.

Stay tuned for more guest bloggers talking about their PWE experiences this semester!

Creating a Community Resource

As my PWE enters its final few weeks, I have been working on finishing several long-term projects, including the presentations for the Opioid Response Project that I spoke about last week. My other major product for that project has been the Online Resource Library that will be put up on its current microsite, and eventually the permanent website that will launch sometime in late fall or early winter. This library contains well over a hundred resources, in ten different subject areas compiled over the course of the two-year project by multiple participants, including past research assistants. Its purpose is to codify the resources created and shared by our community teams, as well as ones that would assist communities in undertaking a collective impact-style response to the opioid crisis. Although there is a guidebook in production that specifically focuses on the implementation of a collective impact project, these resources are substance use-specific, and can assist organizations who are in any stage of addressing opioids in their communities.
While working on this product, there have been many thumbs in this metaphorical pie. Since this project involved many staff and faculty members from across the SOG, it has a series of subcommittees, including one for the website. But because the project is being managed through ncIMPACT, there is an input and review process there as well. This means that I have had to manage the expectations and ideas of many individuals as I create this product, including people who have not had the chance to see the library or been involved in its compilation. Although this has at times made creating this resource more difficult, it has also raised useful questions about its purpose, format, and realistic usefulness in the wider community. For example, these conversations led to the decision to add a brief context statement to each resource and category, so that users do not have to actually click on or read the resource in order to see if it is useful to them. This made the library a much more time-intensive product for me, but will also make it much more helpful to the public audience it is meant to serve.
Creating products for a general audience is something that I have learned much more about during this PWE experience. I have been involved in academia for almost seven years now, and see it as my future career. My perspective, writing, and priorities often reflect that bias. Although I realize the importance of public-focused work, I have traditionally felt uncomfortable creating resources for this audience. How was I supposed to know what people wanted or needed? How was I, with an outsider’s perspective, going to be able to create something that would assist communities in a real, tangible way? Working with ncIMPACT has given me a much more nuanced perspective of making research and project results accessible to those who they affect most. I still know that I have an outsider’s perspective, but now I am able to speak with professionals and clients to understand how resources like this one can best support them. I am also more able to put myself into the shoes of others, and think critically about how to most efficiently communicate this information to a non-academic audience. Being able to learn more about the crossroads of policy, research, practitioners, and communities is helping me grow as a professional, and put the “social” in social worker and the “public” in public administrator.

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.

Project Management

Memorial Day weekend was a welcome break from a busy two weeks at my PWE. One of ncIMPACT’s staff members is ill, changing our team’s work flow. Suddenly, an important work product for the social capital project needed support, and it fell on my shoulders to complete a draft of a literature review in just a couple of days. I also picked up other responsibilities on both the social capital and EITC project which required me to attend an additional series of meetings, pulling my time and attention in multiple directions as we worked to complete the review. I felt not only the pressure of deadlines, but also pressure to step up as a new part of a small team and assert myself as an organizational representative.
On Thursday of last week, I was talking to a friend who asked me if I was enjoying my internship. I immediately launched into an explanation of all the Zoom meetings I had, the deadlines I was up against, and the stress I was feeling because of it all. I waxed poetic about the additional stress of COVID-19, and how I hadn’t even had the chance to meet my coworkers because of it. After letting me vent, he said, “Okay, but are you enjoying it?” I paused for the first time in several days to actually think about that question. Sure, I was busy and maybe even a little overwhelmed by trying to adapt to my new role in the team so quickly. But did that mean that I wasn’t enjoying my time with ncIMPACT? Did it mean that maybe I was in the wrong place, at the wrong time?

Despite the stress of last week, reflecting on my experience allowed me to realize that this is exactly where I want to be right now, COVID aside. My supervisor and field instructor supported me both personally and professionally, including letting me flex my hours to work longer on some days so I could leave early Friday for a weekend away. Anita, ncIMPACT’s director, trusted me enough to let me attend an outward-facing meeting with clients as the only ncIMPACT representative because of my performance in earlier project meetings. And research partners valued my input during our interactions that they were responsive to a proposal I made to potentially augment a study design to collect key informant data, since COVID was affecting our ability to collect it from community members in a timely fashion.

Having more on my plate can be, rightfully, a source of worry. However, it really means that I am being allowed to dig in to the content and management of projects, meaningfully contribute to work, and grow as a social worker and public administrator. Being a part of a team that is as invested in my development as they are the outcomes of my work has been invigorating and encouraging. I can’t wait to see what else I’ll get to sink my teeth into this summer.