In Conversation With Willow Jacobson, New UNC MPA Director

Willow Jacobson speaks to a group of LGFCU Fellows at the School of Government in 2017.

Longtime School faculty member takes the helm in fall 2021 as the first woman to lead the program 

The UNC MPA program is pleased to announce that Willow Jacobson, School faculty member and Robert W. Bradshaw Jr. Distinguished Professor of Public Administration and Government, is the next director of the UNC MPA program. Her term commenced September 1, 2021.

Jacobson currently directs the LGFCU Fellows program, which she helped create in 2011 and which focuses on developing local government leaders in North Carolina. She earned a Ph.D. in public administration from Syracuse University and her research has appeared in a range of journals, including Public Administration Review, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, and Review of Public Administration. Learn more about Jacobson and her goals for the program below. 

You have been part of the MPA program for some time. What are you excited about in this new role? 

I am continuously inspired by the passion, talent, and public service commitment of our MPA students and alumni. I believe in our mission “to prepare public service leaders and create useable knowledge that improves governance,” and I see that mission come to life in the work of our alumni and students. I am excited to have the chance to serve in this leadership role as we continue to work to accomplish this mission. 

What do you hope to achieve in the long and short term as director of the UNC MPA program? 

In the last year we adopted a new vision for the MPA program: “A nationally recognized leader in engaged scholarship whose faculty, students, and alumni transform thought, organizations, communities, and lives.” I am excited to work alongside the other faculty, staff, students, and alumni to achieve this vision. 

In the short term, I am looking forward to getting to connect with more of our alumni and students and to hear from them about what is working and where we can be doing even better. 

As director, what would you like your relationship with the program’s alumni to be like? 

Our alumni are the best! They give so much back to the program. I consistently see our shared commitment to making the MPA program the best it can be. I look forward to continuing to develop a relationship of mutual respect and learning, trust, inclusion, and open communication. 

How will you maintain and improve the MPA program’s unique synergy with the School of Government and further connect theory with practice? 

The School of Government is an exceptional institution filled with such talented and committed faculty and staff. I was originally drawn to the MPA program because of its location at the School and its engaged mission (and because David Ammons told me I would like it here—once again, he was right). I think it is wonderful that the MPA program is housed in the School, an institution that is distinctively positioned to contribute to theory and practice in the engaged work that we do. I believe this unique setting is a tremendous value for the faculty and the students we serve, not to mention the 12,000 public officials that the School serves annually. I will work to continue to find opportunities for our students to engage with the School’s efforts and initiatives more broadly while continuing to support all the wonderful ways that the faculty bring their engaged scholarship and practice-based experiences into the classroom and our curriculum.