Public Service: A Job or Career?

For Dustin Tripp, City of Raleigh employee, Knightdale Town Council Member, and MPA@UNC student, it's both.

"Sewer maintenance" does not make for an exciting job title. But Tripp, assistant superintendent for sewer maintenance with the City of Raleigh Public Utilities Department, knows the concrete value of his work: he helps to protect the environment and the public health of his community. He joined the City of Raleigh in 2002, starting as a commercial meter mechanic. Now he oversees two direct reports and a total of 40 staff members.

"Our job is to make sure that wastewater does not pollute the environment," he said. "And I make sure my employees know the importance of what they’re doing. I tell them ‘This can be a job, or this can be a career, but either way, you need to be the best person at your job that you can be.’"

Tripp decided early on that education was important to his career goals. While working full time for the City of Raleigh, he has earned an associate’s degree from Wake Technical Community College, a BA in leadership in the public sector from North Carolina State University, and he is now pursuing a master of public administration from the UNC School of Government.

Tripp has found a way to make a difference in his hometown as well. A volunteer stint for the Knightdale Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee a few years ago awakened an interest in politics, and in 2011 Tripp was elected to the Knightdale Town Council. It’s a challenge, he admits, to work full time, be a committed local elected official, raise two daughters, invest in his marriage, and pursue a graduate degree at the same time.

But he has found a way to make it work by enrolling in the online format of the School of Government’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program. MPA@UNC is designed specifically for professionals like Tripp who want to further develop their leadership skills while continuing to work in their community. When researching graduate programs, Tripp found the MPA@UNC online format, combined with the reputation of the School of Government, made the program his top choice.

Tripp is already seeing a return on his investment in graduate school.

"A lot of the lessons we work on are issues that come up in government every day," he said. "For instance, in the human resource management class, we discussed personnel actions such as hiring and disciplinary actions—situations that I experience every week. Knowing the theories behind the rules helps me to make better decisions."

Tripp also cites a recent MPA@UNC accounting class as instantly translatable to his work on the Knightdale Town Council finance committee. For more than 80 years, the School of Government has provided educational resources to help North Carolina local government officials. In addition, many North Carolina officials are graduates of the School’s MPA program. MPA@UNC offers individuals like Tripp who are interested in public service careers the opportunity to increase their leadership capacity and deepen their commitment to service while continuing to work full time.

"MPA@UNC is a great program for elected officials or government employees," said Tripp. "It’s hard work, but I have an end goal, and I already see the positive impact this is having on the work I do every day."


Published August 17, 2015. This article was also published in the North Carolina League of Municipalities' Southern City magazine.