Practicum and Applied Research Problem

MPA@UNC’s Professional Work Experience Practicum and Applied Research Problem 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

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 course that will guide you through an exploration of your PWE through the MPA program core competencies.

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.

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%.

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.

Applied Research Problem (3 credit hours)

Throughout MPA@UNC, you will assemble a collection of academic and professional work that demonstrates your development as a public service leader. In PUBA 747, students will reflect on and integrate their learning from five required MPA courses and their professional public service work experiences to successfully respond to an applied research problem. Students will select from a list of applied research problems, conduct a literature review, collect data, and identify their preliminary findings. These steps will be informed by their professional public service work experiences given the applied research needed to produce their thesis substitutes, which will be written and evaluated by a three-person committee during PUBA 748.

In PUBA 748, students will continue to work on their applied research problem from PUBA 747. Students are expected to enter PUBA 748 with a complete (clean) dataset, including a preliminary analysis that has been revised to include the feedback from PUBA 747 instructors. In this course, students will continue with the data analysis, discuss the findings, and develop recommendations.