What’s in a Name? The story of ‘Canton’.

The original sign from the Canton Train Depot

This week I wandered over to the Canton Historical Museum, conveniently located beside town hall. As a history major, I have wanted to visit the museum since I moved to Canton. Caroline, the museum curator, greeted me at the door and was happy to show me around the many exhibits that line the walls of the old building. For a small town, the number and quality of items that have been preserved is impressive. Caroline explained that the extensive collection resulted, in part, from the pride of the residents and their desire to document the town’s story. She described the recent donation of a box of photos and documents found in an attic and walked me through the process of organizing and documenting the items. In 2004, the building flooded and some of the items were damaged or lost. Despite this setback, thousands of unique items remain on display, including a large exhibit from the paper mill and the original sign from an old train depot.


An item from Canton, Ohio, prompted me to ask about the connection. Caroline and a volunteer who joined our conversation explained that the piece, part of a bridge once located in the center of town, was the reason behind the town’s name. They described how a board member in 1893 stormed out of a meeting to decide the name of the town following a heated exchange. As he walked through town, the board member crossed this bridge and noticed the name “Canton” on the metalwork of the iron structure. When he returned to the meeting, the man recommended naming the town “Canton,” and the board unanimously agreed. After roaming through the exhibits, I am convinced that the museum staff could have offered an anecdote like this for every item in the museum.



Women in Local Government – Sandy and Teresa

During the month of February, my posts will feature Women in Local Government, focusing on their roles and highlighting their contributions to the community. This week, we meet Teresa and Sandy, two individuals committed to serving the town of Canton in their roles as Accounting Clerks. 


When visitors walk through the double glass door of the William G. Stamey Municipal Building in downtown Canton, NC, they are typically welcomed by a friendly greeting from Sandy or Teresa. Beyond being the first town employees that residents interact with, Sandy and Teresa keep the front office running smoothly by managing a diverse list of responsibilities. They field questions about trash pick up, board meetings, water services, facility rentals, and more, a task that often requires a lot of patience. Sandy and Teresa warmly welcomed me when I began my PWE and have since been very kind to answer my ongoing questions, including the ones for this interview! As they explained, to work in these positions, a person must have a strong understanding of local government and “everything that happens in town hall.” Serving in the position of Accounting Clerk involves more than just answering questions; they also process financial transactions and collect payments. Occasionally, their duties take them outside the office where they have participated in everything from working the Labor Day concert to driving a utility vehicle alongside town officials in the Christmas parade.


Despite the challenge of having to deal with complaints, Sandy and Teresa had a lot to say when I asked what they enjoy most about their jobs. They described how working in public service was more fulfilling than their previous positions in the private sector. Leaving at the end of a day knowing they have helped someone solve a difficult problem makes the job enjoyable. When describing the benefits of working in local government, they emphasized teamwork, learning, and community involvement. With a small staff, events like the Labor Day Festival requires months of planning and involves staff from every department. This is a point that might surprise people. As Sandy explained, “residents wake up and their trash can is empty or they show up to a large event like the Labor Day Festival and think it just happens. They don’t often think about the hours of work it takes from people behind the scenes.” According to Sandy and Teresa, having a good team not only makes a job more manageable, it also makes it fun.


Another perk to working in local government which Sandy and Teresa discussed is the opportunity to learn more about how the town functions. Years into their careers, they both indicated that they continue to learn something new every day. Learning about local government helps foster a better connection with the town and facilitates community involvement. For this series, I conclude every interview with the same question: What advice do you have for someone interested in working in local government? Their suggestion: Get involved in the community! At this point in the interview another staff person wandered into the conversation, and she seconded this recommendation. She also highlighted the importance of staying informed through attending board meetings or reading the minutes (available online). When I asked Sandy and Teresa if they would recommend a career in local government, they responded without hesitation, “yes!”

What does the fight against the opioid crisis, professional communications, and Carolina MPA all have in common?

If you thought of a  Carolina MPA professor, you guessed it! 

Kody Kinsley ProfileMeet adjunct professor Kody H. Kinsley, who is part of the team pushing to end the opioid crisis in North Carolina AND teaching Carolina MPA online students. He currently serves as the Deputy Secretary for Behavioral Health & Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS). In his current role, Kinsley focuses on state-wide public policy and operations that promote whole-person health for individuals living with mental illness, intellectual or developmental disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, and substance use disorders. (To learn more about Kinsley’s work with NC DHHS, click here). 

In 2016, North Carolina had one of the highest opioid overdose death rates in the nation and was one of the top eight states for fentanyl overdose deaths (North Carolina Health and Human Services Press Release). In response, state and community partners created the NC Opioid Action Plan. As a result of the implementation of the plan, North Carolina saw a decrease in unintentional opioid-related overdose deaths for the first time in five years and a 24 percent decrease in opioid dispensing.

Energy and commerce committee logo

For that reason, Kinsley was invited to testify at the “A Public Health Emergency: State Efforts to Curb the Opioid Crisis ” hearing held by the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on January 14th, 2020. Kinsley was asked to share how North Carolina has used and is using federal funds to promote opioid treatment and recovery efforts. (To learn more about this hearing, click here). 

In addition to his role at the NC Department of Health and Human Services, Kinsely serves as an adjunct professor for the PUBA 721: Professional Communication course in the Carolina MPA online program. He comes to the program with experience serving as the presidentially appointed Assistant Secretary for Management in the United States Department of Treasury, as well as private-sector work. Kinsley brings a unique perspective and plethora of professional communication experience to the Carolina MPA program and its students. We are lucky to have him! 

This Week’s Pet Projects

I have often heard local government employees explain that they love their jobs because each day brings new challenges and opportunities. The same has been true in my PWE. Last week, the town manager sent me an unexpected and fun assignment. I planned to start this week continuing my research on local ordinances but instead had the opportunity to write a report for the town’s planned upcoming dog park. Prior to this week, I knew nothing about dog parks, so I really enjoyed researching the topic and writing the report. Did you know the top citizen priorities for dog parks are typically cleanliness, shade, and water? I discovered best practices related to everything from amenities to location to surface materials!

Through my PWE, I am learning more about the range of responsibilities local government employees tackle every day. In Canton, that means completing tasks like delivering recycling bins, meeting with local business leaders, and planning events. As I mentioned previously, I have no local government experience. Completing my internship in a small town with a limited number of staff provides me with the opportunity to gain a broad perspective of duties and expectations required of town employees. While functioning with a smaller staff can be challenging, it also means that town employees develop a diverse skill set. The dog park is part of a larger parks and recreation improvement project, and I’m excited to see the transformation. As I continue in my PWE, I look forward to sharing with you the details of other assignments that come my way. With multiple projects planned, it’s an exciting time to be working with the Town of Canton!

Welcome January 2020 Online Cohort!

Hello everyone!

Happy New Year & welcome back to the school year!

I am not sure about y’all, but the MPA program is super excited to begin this semester. Want to know why? Well…it’s because we have NEW students! We want to extend a huge congratulations and WELCOME to our January 2020 online cohort!!! This group comes to us with an interesting background and diverse perspectives. Here are some cool things to know about our new students


We have quite the group starting this January in our online program. Demographically, our new students are coming to our program from Minnesota, Alaska, California, Florida, New Jersey, and more! See below to see exactly which states and how many students.

Visual of USA map with NC, California, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, New Jersey, Minnesota, Ohio and Alaska highlighted as states where our online students are coming from this January.
Highlighted states with corresponding number of students coming into our 2020 January Online Cohort.

And as far as the gender-binary goes, we have almost an even 50-50 split; This cohort has 11 female students and 10 male students! The cohort’s average is 34 years old, which shows that they are bringing their own wealth of knowledge and experience into the program!


Speaking of experience…this cohort has an average of 10+ years of working four of the incoming students utilized the local government employee tuition match scholarshipexperience! Four of the new students utilized our new local government employee tuition match scholarship! Of those four, two were firefighters, one was the head of a local government IT department, and the last one was a town manager. The cohort has two other students with a military background. Also, they have three students transitioning from working in the private sector to working in the public sector. Can you imagine the fruitful conversations that will be happening during their class times?


Given the students’ diversity of experience and location, it is to be expected that they would have diverse interests as well. (And it’s true!) Their interests range from healthcare administration to IT in local government to financial management in state government. We even have one student who is interested in running for office! A long with their personal and career interests, the January 2020 online cohort expressed varying areas of interest in the MPA program. 

bar graph showing 8 students interested in local government, 7 interested in nonprofit management, 4 in state government, and 2 in federal government

The majority of our incoming students expressed interest in local government (8) and nonprofit management (7). However, the cohort also has students interested in state government (4) and federal government (2).

All in all, we are so very happy to welcome our January 2020 online cohort! We can’t wait to see where the MPA takes our new students.

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.”

Continue reading “Professional Work Experience in Papertown”

Student Perspective: Smaller Cohort Culture

As a current graduate student, one of my favorite things about this program is the fact that we have such a small cohort. Our cohorts usually range from 20-25 students. These are the students that you will share all of your core classes with. (To see a list of the core courses, click here). Even though our online students don’t typically meet in-person (outside of electing to do the immersion course), the MPA program tries to replicate the small cohort feel by using video conferencing and small class sizes of about 15 people. In my opinion, here are the best parts about having a small cohort. 

  1. You get to know each other really well. Sometimes you spend from 9-5 with the same people for 3 or 4 days at a time. Then you have group assignments or individual papers and create study groups. For online students, you spend your class time with the same people and may utilize zoom after class to create study groups or work on group projects. Spending this extended time together allows you to get to know the members of your cohort pretty well. 
  2. You learn how to communicate and challenge each other in a productive way. Because we spend so much time together, that doesn’t mean we always agree. (Trust me, we don’t – We are human). However, our interactions are so often that we are pushed to learn to be authentic and communicate with each other. It helps us fine tune our communication skills and honor our colleagues in the cohort. This will not only help us as we continue in the program, but also as we move forward into careers. 
  3. You create a tight-knit support system. Grad school is such a big part of your life for 2+ years and these people shared all of that with you. I am thankful to have had my cohort support me through all of the ups and downs. This support system can be helpful during PWE and job searches. (To learn more about PWEs, click here)
  4. We are well-connected! One of the perks of this program is the alumni network. From what I have heard from other alumni, folks remain in contact with each other even after graduation. Additionally, those that choose to work in local government will often attend training at the School of Government. This extended network that is created allows for helping folks get connected, ask for advice, and even search for jobs. 

The perks of the small, personable cohort is one of the main reasons that I was so drawn to this program.

JD vs MPA: Part 2

As an extension of our last post, we wanted to share another perspective with you about pursuing an MPA and/or a JD. As the last part of this series (for now), we want to introduce you to Lori Gershon. Lori is in her first year of the MPA program. She was a practicing attorney for 22 years, focused on child welfare. Lori was actively appearing in court and trying cases up until the time she began the MPA program. Check out Lori’s perspective on the JD and the MPA.

Photo of Lori Gershon, JD and MPA Candidate 2021
Lori Gershon, JD and MPA Candidate 2021

Why did you choose law?

Lori: ​I always wanted to help people, especially vulnerable populations (kids, elderly, victims of domestic violence) and I thought using the law would be a powerful tool to achieve that goal. My seventh grade English teacher planted the initial seed, even though in retrospect it was probably because I was argumentative.

What made you decide to pursue an MPA? 

Lori: At this point in my career, I was looking for a leadership and management position. I want to take the years of experience in the community and in the courtroom and apply them on a larger scale. But, I needed to learn management and administration skills which is why I applied to the MPA program.

What is law school like vs the MPA program? 

Lori: Law school is its own creature. It focuses on teaching you a new way of thinking and solving problems. It is more rigid than the MPA program. The MPA program teaches through creativity and theory, and not through rules and precedent. Both are valuable means of solving a problem, but they are very different.

What do you hope to do with your MPA degree after graduation? 

Lori: ​I hope to continue to serve the public in local government.

If you could do it all over again, would you still get your JD? 

Lori: ​Absolutely! I have enjoyed being a lawyer and have gained valuable analytical skills that serve me. I have had the privilege of helping children and families achieve justice and have played a role in ensuring a fair system.

Any advice for someone contemplating between a JD and an MPA? 

Lori: ​I would recommend highly getting both a JD and MPA. If someone would like to work in the courtroom and in a law firm first, I would advise getting the JD first and taking time to work to get the most courtroom/real life experience, and then take time off to get the MPA. If someone knows that they prefer to go directly into management and bypass the courtroom/in the trenches experience, then I would recommend a dual degree program to receive the JD and MPA in a combined course of study. 

Thanks, Lori! We hope that these two perspectives were helpful in helping you choose between MPA and JD or pursuing both! 

JD vs MPA: Part 1

The MPA program recruits students with varied academic interests and backgrounds. One of these academic areas is law. We meet students who started law school and decided it wasn’t for them. We hear from people who thought they wanted to go to law school until they found us. And then we see people in our program who actually completed law school, worked for a couple of years, and then came back for the MPA. Currently, we have at least 5 students with JD’s in our program, and a number of alumni who have a JD and MPA.

This will be a two-part series independently featuring two of our resident JDs. This post will feature, Richard Carey. Rich is currently in his second year of the MPA program. Rich served as a litigator for 7 years in Chicago. His focus was on commercial litigation. His main line of work was representing construction companies who did not get paid for their work. Check out Rich’s perspective on the JD and the MPA.

Photo of Richard Carey
Photo of Richard Carey, JD and MPA Candidate 2020

Why did you choose law?

Rich: I went to law school because, at the time, the market for lawyers seemed very robust. Additionally, I went to law school because it was a career I was familiar with and I did not know about the many other options for graduate education when I graduated from undergrad. Getting either a JD or MBA seemed like my only option after coming out of undergrad and, frankly, I did not consider anything else. On a purely academic front, studying law appealed to me because it combines many of my favorite subjects. Law has connections to economics, history, and political science. The amalgamation of those topics was what I really liked about it.

What made you decide to pursue an MPA? 

Rich: The practice of law is very different from what, I think, most people think it is. It is not like Law & Order or any other show/movie. Lawyers spend a great deal of time working alone, they spend a great deal of time working to find more work and clients, and they spend a great deal of time working on things that are not the practice of law. None of this appealed to me. I decided I needed an MPA to get back to my life’s goal of helping others as part of a community, and to work collaboratively with others to solve complex problems.

What is law school like vs the MPA program? 

Rich: Law school is incredibly competitive and by its very nature, zero-sum. If you get an A in a class that means someone else got a B because of strict rules regarding grading curves. That makes it seem more like a competition and less like a journey towards learning. Graduating in the top 25% of your law school class literally decides your career for the next 30 years, so the pressure is intense. The MPA program is far more collegial and welcoming. Professors know your name, and they reach out to you as a student. Law school classes can have 100 people in them, no MPA class at UNC-Chapel Hill has more than 25 and many electives have less than 10.

What do you hope to do with your MPA degree after graduation? 

Rich: I want to work for a small- or medium-sized local government in the manager’s office as a policy analyst or budget professional. My end goal would be to work as a city/town manager for a community of 10,000 people or under.

If you could do it all over again, would you still get your JD? 

Rich: With perfect hindsight, I would have made several different changes. I think if I could have done it all over, I would have tried to do a JD/MPA joint degree at Northern Illinois University. If I had known what I know now about what the practice of law really entailed, I would have tried for a career as Town/City Attorney. I am very proud that I got through law school, passed the bar exam, and did some very good work for my clients. That being said, if I had picked the right graduate program for me back in 2005, it means I could have 12 years’ experience in local government work. But also my current path brought me to meeting my wife, my cohort, and a nice house in Chapel Hill, so I don’t know if I would change that if I could. 

Any advice for someone contemplating between a JD and an MPA? 

Rich: I would encourage anyone who wants to go to law school to spend a day or two with someone who is actually practicing law. And not a senior person, someone a year or two out of law school. And not on a special day where they are on trial or something, a regular Tuesday. People applying to law school need to know that it could be years (or a decade) before you have your own clients, before you can choose which cases you work on, and even when those  two are true, you are going to be spending the majority of your time working on things that are not legal-related. You will be looking for clients, helping to run a law firm, and chasing down clients who owe you money. Ten years out of a UNC-Chapel Hill MPA program, you could be the city manager of fairy large municipality.

The MPA offers a bunch of advantages for the right person. It is a two-year degree instead of three. They are usually cheaper than law school, especially private law schools. You will start helping your community while you are in graduate school through research and coursework. When you graduate you will be ready to start helping in your community immediately and you will find that there are plenty of employers looking to hire you. You will be working on actual policy for actual people right away!

Thanks, Rich for providing that insight! Be on the lookout for next’s responses from Lori, our other resident JD who is in her first year of the program. 

So Long Salisbury

ron swanson television GIF

Well, it has been a couple of weeks since I finished up my internship with the City of Salisbury, and I can honestly say I still miss this amazing experience (we can pretend that I saved the last post until some time had passed, and not that I left you all hanging because I was enjoying the beach). If you ever get a chance to visit or work in Salisbury, NC, I highly recommend it (like 5 stars on Yelp to those of you who still use Yelp).

And to all those thinking about a career in local government, RUN! Haha, just kidding. Honestly, I would certainly suggest an internship where you can see multiple departments, especially if you aren’t quite sure where you want to start your career like me. Although, I still refuse to admit to a favorite department in Salisbury, no matter how many times they ask – YOU WERE ALL MY FAVORITE!!!!

I sign off ready to finish my last year of the MPA program at UNC and start my hard core, nerdy, local government career. Hope I see some of y’all out there!!!