MPA@UNC Student Hosts President Obama

Working with a White House team to host a presidential visit is the chance of a lifetime. MPA@UNC student Jason Hyatt got that rare opportunity this spring, when President Barack Obama visited Hyatt’s workplace for a town hall event.

Hyatt is library manager at ImaginOn, a collaborative venture between the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Children’s Theatre of Charlotte in North Carolina. The library owns the 102,000-square-foot facility, which also houses a public exhibition gallery, a multimedia production studio, two professional theaters, and administrative support areas. Hyatt has been with the library 13 years and has managed the facility for the past three years. 

“I received a call from our library director on a Friday night around 9:30 p.m.,” Hyatt said. “He told me that the White House had been in touch with the library and would like to host a town hall event the following Wednesday.”

The White House saw ImaginOn as an ideal backdrop for an event focused on working mothers and families, but the short notice launched Hyatt into a 48-hour whirlwind of activity nailing down logistics with Secret Service and White House staff. Hyatt’s longtime commitment to public service had placed him in the right spot for this opportunity, and his leadership skills, honed through MPA@UNC, meant the event would be a success. 

As the town hall wrapped up, the White House team told Hyatt they needed one more favor from him.

“It was only when she told me to take off my badge so it wouldn't show up in the photo that I realized I was about to meet Obama,” Hyatt said. His White House contact told him, “You've worked hard. We want you to meet the boss.”

“A few moments later I was shaking hands with President Obama, thanking him for visiting ImaginOn, and posing for an official photo. It was definitely the highlight of the whole experience!”

Hosting an event with the president of the United States reinforced for Hyatt the importance of maintaining flexibility and communication with staff and stakeholders whenever responding to unexpected developments.

“We never could have hosted the event without staff and leadership who were willing to make quick changes, adjust hours, alter schedules, and be as responsive as possible to the unique demands of this situation,” Hyatt said.

Although Hyatt had initially anticipated the event would be held in one of the facility’s two theater spaces, Obama’s team chose the first floor of the Spangler Library instead, which required a large amount of work to rearrange and create space for local and national media, invited guests, an audience of 200, and secure access for the president.

The desired backdrop for the spot where Obama would speak involved library shelves with children’s books and ImaginOn’s story time puppets.

“As we prepared the shelves prior to Obama’s arrival, a White House staff member told us that they had shown a photo of the shelving area to the President,” Hyatt said. “His response was that he wanted more books on the shelves! For a librarian, that was music to my ears.”

Hyatt grew up in a home that emphasized education and public service. His father was a high school chemistry teacher, and his sister became a third-grade teacher. He began his undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, intending to follow in their footsteps and become a teacher, but a part-time job with the public library led him to a new career path. After graduation, he earned a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

“Since then, I have worked continuously in public service,” Hyatt said. “This has only solidified my desire to remain in some type of public service role for the rest of my career. I've always been proud to have a job that works for the common good, and it's that sense of duty that continues to make my work so fulfilling.”

With his career goals aimed at continued library administration or possibly city or county management, Hyatt for several years had considered going back to school. But he did not find a program that fit his schedule and matched his interests until he discovered MPA@UNC.

“Once I became aware of MPA@UNC, it did not take me long to figure out that this was the perfect program for me,” he said. “The best part for me is that I can continue working in a job I love while earning my MPA from a great university. It perfectly fits with my life and career right now.”

Whereas his first master’s program focused on administration and management purely from a library standpoint, the MPA@UNC curriculum provides a broader understanding of the responsibilities of public organizations and their leaders.

“The coursework is preparing me to take a step up into a higher level of leadership, either within my current organization or another public service agency,” Hyatt said. “It's also giving me practical information that is immediately applicable to my work right now ... . And lastly, perhaps the biggest aid to achieving my career goals is becoming a part of the larger UNC School of Government network.”

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