From the Classroom

by Dylan Russell ´17 (Originally published in IMPACT Alumni Newsletter, Winter 2016)

From its inception, the online MPA format was designed to replicate the on-campus experience as closely as possible with the same curriculum, same lead faculty, and same emphasis on rigor and excellence. We invited first-year on-campus student Dylan Russell to team up with MPA@UNC student Jeffrey Merritt to give us some feedback about their shared and/or divergent experiences.

So far, my most difficult assignment has been learning how to balance it all. I'm a first-year on-campus student. I work in the Development Divison at the School of Government and am finally getting in the swing of balancing my core classes, my work assignments, and exploring Chapel Hill. Prior to entering the program, I had been a White House intern and a fifth-grade teacher. I always knew time management was crucial, but just when I thought I had mastered the art of balancing grad school with life, I met Jeffrey Merritt. Jeff is in his second semester with MPA@UNC, the online format of the program, and he works as a business technology analyst for the NC Department of Public Instruction’s School Nutrition Services Section. Not only is he a full-time student and employee, he’s also a husband of 25 years and a dad to three kids in college. Talk about time management! I sat down with Jeff to talk about our experiences with the two program formats. We were surprised to discover the similarities.

Getting In

We each knew from our first exploration that there was something different about Carolina MPA. Jeff had been in an online PhD program at another university and said he felt “abandoned” there. That couldn’t be further from his experience at UNC, and I share the same sentiments. We talked about how smooth registration went, the supportiveness of staff members, and the genuine willingness of faculty and staff to go above and beyond to provide assistance.

Cohort Experience

My favorite aspect of the program has been learning from my peers during class. I was surprised to hear that Jeff felt the same about his online experience. I had assumed that the oncampus format had the advantage of face-to-face interaction. However, Jeff told me about the conversations he has with his peers in class and his experience with his professors. It sounded identical to the experience that we have here on campus. Jeff talked about how his professors look for his input and value the experiences students bring to the classroom and how having diverse students from all over the country brings valuable insights to discussions.

A Call to Service

During my interview with Jeff it was obvious that he has a heart for public service. I think that is what sets Carolina MPA apart. The program reminds us that sometimes politics can be small and government can seem abstract, but the skills we acquire here have the potential to transform and change lives. Jeff and I are both passionate about education. He started working at the Department of Public Instruction because he felt compelled to give back to the education community that gave so much to him and his children. As a fifth grade teacher at Mary Scroggs Elementary in Chapel Hill, I saw the problems that children and teachers face, and that those problems are bigger than one classroom. That’s when I decided to return to school. Through our assignments and interactions with others, we are constantly reminded of the immense power of government to do good in people’s lives. Jeff and I both acknowledged that it was a privilege to be learning alongside others who are invigorated by public service.

The Tools to Serve Effectively

Carolina MPA brings a vital human element to political discourse. From the support that we have received, the people we have encountered, and the fostering of our commitment to public service, we believe that this program is equipping us with the knowledge and skills to serve our communities.

Learn more about our dynamic online MPA program


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