Practicum and Portfolio

MPA@UNC's Professional Work Experience Practicum and Portfolio components provide you the opportunity to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to the workplace, reflect upon your experiences, and demonstrate your development as a public service leader.

Professional Work Experience Practicum (1.5 credit hours)

The purpose of the MPA Professional Work Experience Practicum is to provide students an opportunity to apply and refine learning, further develop their competencies in a public service work environment and to gain additional experiences for career and professional development. Some students may be eligible for a PWE waiver.

Elements of the PWE Practicum:

  • Identify a public service experience that promotes the public good and provides you opportunities to:
  • Define your learning goals and PWE employment conditions, respectively, in a learning agreement between you and the MPA program as well as an employment agreement between you, your employer, and the online MPA program.
  • Perform either 400 hours of public service work over 10 weeks (full-time PWE) or 300 hours of service over 15 weeks (part-time PWE).
  • At the conclusion of your work term, you will enroll in a 1.5-credit hour course that will guide you through an exploration of your PWE through the MPA program core competencies. As part of the course, you will begin to work on content that will be utilized in the portfolio you will produce in your final course, PUBA 746 – MPA Portfolio.

Pie chart shows the sectors in which UNC's MPA candidates gained work experience through PWE practicums since 2009. Sectors include local government: 41%; nonprofit: 20%; state government: 14%; college and universities: 11%; federal government: 7%; private: 7%.

Identifying an Appropriate Professional Work Experience (PWE) Opportunity

If you're already working in a public service position, you may be able to apply a current project toward your PWE Practicum requirement. If you need assistance finding your PWE, our Associate Director of Alumni Relations and Professional Work Experience can help. All PWE Opportunities must be approved in advance by the Associate Director of Alumni Relations and Professional Work Experience.

As you begin comparing professional work experience opportunities, you will want to consider how they align with your goals as a public service leader. The chart below will give you an idea of how your goals can be leveraged in different PWE settings.

PWE Practicum Waiver

Students with prior significant experience in a professional or managerial level position in a government or nonprofit organization may seek to apply for a waiver from the Professional Work Experience Practicum requirement. Explore the requirements below to find out if you may qualify for a PWE practicum waiver.

Students may be eligible for a PWE practicum waiver if they meet the following requirements:

  • Student must have 5+ years of public service work experience
  • Student must be currently working, and have worked for the past 2 or more years in a position at a government or nonprofit organization
  • Student must be in a position providing a benefit to the public, working for the greater good of their communities, managing complex work, and/or assuming primary responsibility for project management

The full PWE Practicum Waiver Policy is available here.

Upon admission into the MPA@UNC program, students can have a conversation with the Associate Director of Career Services regarding the PWE practicum waiver – though you will be officially approved or denied once PWE eligible.

Note: All students who receive a PWE practicum waiver will still be required to complete the PUBA 745 Professional Work Experience course.

Portfolio (1.5 credit hours)

Throughout MPA@UNC, you will assemble a collection of academic and professional work that demonstrates your development as a public service leader. During your final semester, you will be required to write a comprehensive portfolio that integrates these assignments and synthesizes them within the broader framework of public administration. The resulting portfolio will be reviewed and approved by a three-person committee, which will also conduct your oral exam. The portfolio measures student achievement against the competency-focused standards.

Your portfolio and oral exam will demonstrate the following traits:

  • Mastery of the core public leadership competencies
  • Ability to synthesize information across courses
  • Strategic leadership decision-making and communication skills

If you have questions or need help completing your application in time for your preferred start date, please contact an admissions counselor at 855-862-4672 or via email at onlinempa@unc.edu.