Current student Delaney King discusses the projects she has underway at the NC Department of Environmental Quality

This post was written by current student Delaney King. 

———————————————————————————————

When the spring semester began, I started applying for a wide array of Professional Work Experience opportunities, including several suggested by the UNC MPA program. The program has a relationship with the Recycling and Materials Management Section (RMMS) at the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and helped me apply for a position directly with the section. Although I did not know specifically what RMMS does, I was interested in working on environmental projects for DEQ. I tried to learn as much as I could about RMMS before my interview, but in the end, the most valuable resource was the staff themselves. I asked several questions about the job and work environment to the point where I felt like I was the one interviewing staff. Luckily, they were incredibly open, patient, and kind. In fact, a UNC MPA alumna who graduated two years before helped interview me and explained how I could use my MPA coursework in the position and offered me advice about my final year in the program. A few weeks later, I found out that I received a summer internship along with one of my classmates, Elise Traywick.

During the interview I learned I would help RMMS establish a food waste reduction program, and hearing that, I knew I would love this internship! Growing up in California, these topics were always a part of my life. My family started composting before I was born, and I was fortunate to go through a school system with access to a garden program and ecoliteracy classes. I immediately knew the internship was an amazing opportunity to create something from scratch and have a long-term impact on an issue I’m already interested in!

The primary focus of my internship is to assist the new and wonderful Organics Recycling Specialist create resources for DEQ’s Use the Food NC initiative including informational documents, a social media toolkit, and website. We are also planning a stakeholder meeting for the fall to launch the campaign and receive feedback from passionate stakeholders about how DEQ can best help them reduce food waste. Simultaneously, I am visiting recycling sites across the state with staff to learn more about the field and maintain relationships with businesses, local governments, and non-profit organizations. If that isn’t enough, I am also providing additional support to staff on a variety of projects, like the Recycling Markets Directory, and taking over projects like the annual recycling program survey for colleges and universities. I love to stay busy!

Environmental policy and food waste will be tackled by Delaney King in her Professional Work Expereince at the Department of Enviornmental Quality

This post was written by current MPA student Delaney King.

——————————————————————————————–

My name is Delaney King, and I am currently an MPA student an UNC Chapel Hill. Before enrolling in the MPA program, I graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 2020 with a major in Political Science, concentrating in American Politics and Environmental Policy, and a minor in History.


Work experiences in high school and college, like assisting my congressman with veteran and military casework, taught me well-intentioned policies often fail those they are meant to help because of red-tape, inefficient organizations, poor intergovernmental relations, etc. I began to realize that this was less an issue of the policies and more an issue of administration. This realization was underscored, bolded, italicized, and typed in ALL CAPS as I witnessed the disastrous effects poor administration can have on an entire country during the COVID-19 pandemic. My undergraduate studies primarily focused on public policy development and less about how to administer policy or how to avoid poor administration. Then, I graduated during the first stages of the pandemic, and suddenly, I had more questions but no longer a venue to ask them.


When deciding what I wanted to do next, I reflected that I enjoy learning about and working in policy development, but my work could be more impactful by insuring well thought out policies are equally well-implemented. *Cue the MPA program*


I recently completed my first year, and I am confident I already have a far better idea of how organizations can ensure efficient, effective, and equitable service delivery. I am excited to continue learning more next year, but in the meantime, I am gaining real world experience and applying what I learned during my Professional Work Experience (PWE). This summer I am working as a Research and Program Assistant for the Recycling and Materials Management Section at the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Specifically, I am helping create materials and organize a stakeholder meeting to expand DEQ’s food waste reduction efforts. I am beyond excited to work within my field of interest –environmental policy–, learn from individuals with years of experience, and speak with people and institutions who have the capacity to help make a difference.

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.

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

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

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.

Making an Impact

ncIMPACT Initiative is an applied public policy team that works with public officials to develop collaborative solutions to North Carolina’s wicked problems. They use an interdisciplinary approach, data driven high-quality analysis, and innovative practices to implement, evaluate, and publicize these solutions while remaining politically and policy neutral.

This is where I’ll be doing my Professional Work Experience.  My introduction  with ncIMPACT is a Zoom call with my new supervisor, Emily, on Monday at 9 AM. It’s the second to last day of exams and I’m still turning in a final tonight, but my MSW-MPA requirements mean I’m working 600 hours this summer; there’s no time to take a week or two and recuperate. The whirlwind of getting onboarded to a new organization coincides with the relief of finishing off an unusual and difficult semester, thanks to the coronavirus.

COVID-19 has blurred the lines between work and life so thoroughly that transitioning from academia to work is almost effortless, at least logistically. I’m still working from home, likely through at least the end of May, if not longer. Instead of Zoom classes, it’s Zoom meetings as I get acquainted with ncIMPACT’s work and the projects I’ll be working on this summer. Part of the SOG, ncIMPACT runs applied public policy and research projects all over the state, building collaboratives in order to implement solutions to complex community problems. I’m curious to see how ncIMPACT straddles the academia-practitioner divide, aiming for direct implementation of research rather than the traditional route of academic publishing.

I’ll be working on at least four different projects this summer: their UNC-TV series, the Opioid Response Project, their federally-funded social capital project, and the EITC in NC project. Run by two different project managers, Emily and Brooklyn, these interesting projects will keep me busy as I work with a variety of staff and clients. I’m thrilled to have found an organization that will allow me to stretch both my social work and public administration muscles, doing research, policy, assessments, interventions, and evaluations of communities and systems.

In my first week, I’m already writing blogs for UNC-TV, attending virtual town halls, and getting involved with a literature review process for the social capital project, plus a variety of meetings to learn more about how I will be contributing to each of the four projects this summer. I can’t wait to see what I learn and accomplish as I look towards my final year of grad school. Let’s get started!

Introducing the PWE and our MPA Summer Bloggers!

It’s May! And it has been too long since I’ve posted, but we have been doing so much work to get our Class of 2019 graduated. We had a total of 41 MPA students graduate this May, and we are so proud of them. Most of them have jobs already, and they are solidly equipped with the education and skills needed to go out there and lead! Stay tuned for a later post on what some of them are up to.

Another thing that happens in May is the beginning of Professional Work Experience (commonly referred to as the PWE) for our current MPA students. It is similar to an internship except that this really is about leading and managing some sort of project. These PWE’s are higher level opportunities where you will actually be contributing more than answering phones or filing. And each May, we invite a few of our students who will be taking part in their PWE’s to blog about their experience.

Our PWE Coordinator (and UNC MPA grad), the wonderful Susan Austin completed a brief interview with me to give us a little frame of reference for the PWE and our Summer Bloggers. Read on, and follow the blogs which will be posted weekly. They’ll surely give you an idea for how MPA education is put to work.

Cara: What is your role, and how long have you been with the MPA program at UNC?
Susan: My title is Associate Director of Professional Work Experience (PWE) and Alumni Relations. Whew! One of my primary responsibilities is to work with all students on their required PWE. I started working with the MPA program in 2006 after joining the School of Government in 2001. I’m also an alumna – Class of ’97.

Cara: Can you talk about what the Professional Work Experience (PWE) is?
Susan: The PWE is an opportunity for our students to apply their classroom learning in a real-life setting, develop their competencies, and gain additional professional experience. The PWE is always one of the highlights of their time in the program.

Cara: How many MPA students are enrolled in a PWE this summer?
Susan: There are 23 students completing their PWE this summer. 13 with local governments, 4 in state agencies, 1 with the federal government, and 5 in nonprofit organizations. The ratio of students in different sectors varies with the interests of the students in each cohort.

Cara: Please introduce our student bloggers for this summer and what roles they’ll be taking on?
Susan: I’m excited about our summer bloggers! They are:
• Courtney Cooper-Lewter with the Chatham County, NC Manager’s Office
• Micayla Costa with the Urban Institute in Washington, DC
• Brian Farmer with the City of Salisbury, NC Manager’s Office
• Hallee Haygood with the City of Durham, NC Budget & Management Department
• Sydney Lawrence with the US EPA Office of Air Quality Planning Standards, Policy Analysis & Communications in Durham, NC
• Karson Nelson with the NC Department of Public Instruction Superintendent’s Office in Raleigh, NC

Cara: What do you hope our readers gain from our Student bloggers on their PWE experiences?
Susan: This is a great opportunity for readers to understand the scope of career opportunities an MPA degree opens up for our graduates. For those with an interest in public service, learning about the student experiences provides an inside look into the practical work that makes our communities better places to live.

Cara: Where will you be reading the blogs from this summer?
Susan: Ha! Well I read all of them all summer so that will vary. My favorite place will be at the lake.