Professional Work Experience Gets Students Out of the Classroom and Into the Workplace

UNC Master of Public Administration students gain the opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge in the real world by completing the Professional Work Experience (PWE). A required part of the MPA curriculum, the PWE helps students explore new projects and experience working at different public service organizations, while also deciding what areas of public service are the best fit for them. 

“The PWE has been and remains an important component of the curriculum and marks a pivotal stage of MPA learning,” said Willow Jacobson, director of the UNC MPA program. “It gives students a chance to apply, test, and explore how theories and course concepts work in practice. It is an opportunity to refine knowledge, skills, and competencies and develop insights into strengths, interests, and areas for continued development. Moreover, students often make lasting relationships that shape their careers.”

Below, several current MPA students discuss their PWEs, what they learned about themselves, and where they want to take their careers moving forward.

Kinsey Beauclair, Community Empowerment Fund (CEF), Chapel Hill

“I worked with community members toward their goals of gaining employment, housing stability, and financial savings. I also contributed to the development of CEF’s homebuyer program, which supports low-income and first-time homebuyers in Chapel Hill. 

“Additionally, I conducted a research project to evaluate the impacts of Chapel Hill’s Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance. This provided me valuable insight into housing in Chapel Hill and our duty as public administrators to make affordable housing more accessible. My time with CEF also exposed me to the ins and outs of nonprofits and encouraged me to continue working with equity-focused nonprofits in the future.”

Scott Powell, Budget and Management Services, Wake County

“The most rewarding experiences of my PWE all included elements of change management, whether internally for a 16-person team or countywide for 4,500-plus employees. For example, I witnessed—and played a very small part in—the shift to zero-based budgeting for contractual services for all departments to right-size contracts. This involved new work products, process improvements, training, and mass communications, to say the least. On a smaller scale, I worked with budget staff to re-tool our office’s graduate internship process, enhancing our ability to recruit and retain top talent. 

“I was fortunate to continue my PWE part-time through the fall after beginning in the summer. 

In winter, I took on a full-time position with the county. I believe the strongest component of my application for a full-time role was my understanding of and fit with the team’s culture. To that end, I credit Dr. Jacobson’s organizational theory course with giving me the tools and perspective to identify aspects of a team’s culture, buy-in, and ultimately co-create it. 

“At each step of the journey, I encountered and learned from UNC MPA alumni at all levels of the organization who took the time and initiative to answer all my questions, sharing the thought process behind their actions and leadership.” 

Wendy Welsh, Manager’s Office, Town of Carrboro 

“Throughout my PWE, I was fortunate to spend time with each department director to understand their jobs and challenges experienced in Carrboro. I was able to help with pressing issues for the town manager by researching peer municipalities’ ordinances on road connectivity, stormwater management, and police traffic-stop benchmarking. I attended council meetings, created and distributed bi-weekly Council-Manager updates, and compiled council priorities with comprehensive goals for the management team to better understand priorities going forward. 

“For a career in public administration, this experience provided valuable insight into a town’s management team and what it takes to make a town operate smoothly with high demand from its council and residents. This talented staff left a lasting impression on me and encouraged me to continue my work in local government.”