Recap: 2014 Public Administration Conference

In early November, the School of Government held its annual Public Administration Conference at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This two-day event is an exciting opportunity for MPA@UNC students to connect on campus, discuss current trends and challenges that exist within the public sector, and exchange ideas with fellow students, alumni, faculty, and thought leaders from across the country.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Pre-Conference Activity: Case Study Competition


MPA@UNC student Keri Majikes works with her team during the pre-conference case competition.

Over breakfast, students were invited to participate in a case study competition, a pre-conference event that provided an opportunity to meet face-to-face and work together in teams to solve a real, workplace conflict.


The challenge? Advise the city manager on how to deal with a dispute between the public works manager and finance director regarding the rollout of a new citywide data management system. This case was based on a real experience of MPA Program Director Bill Rivenbark. Students deliberated and then presented their recommendations to MPA faculty and city officials, including the assistant city manager of Chapel Hill.

Keynote Address with June St. Clair Atkinson

In the afternoon, following a guided tour of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, June St. Clair Atkinson delivered the conference’s keynote address. The first woman elected state superintendent of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Atkinson oversees nearly 1.5 million students in more than 2,500 public schools.

Atkinson shared her vision for what she sees as the “future of public education.” Some of the innovations she discussed included project-based, adaptive learning and an end to course testing. “Testing is a better indication of what someone doesn’t know than what they do know,” she said. She also proposed a new approach to the grading system.

Deil S. Wright Lecture with L. Douglas Wilder

Later in the afternoon, the Honorable L. Douglas Wilder delivered the esteemed Deil S. Wright Lecture. Wilder was the first African American elected as a state senator in Virginia, the state’s first African American lieutenant governor, and the first African American to be elected governor of a US state—Virginia—an office he held from 1990 to 1994. His most recent political office was mayor of Richmond, Virginia, which he held from 2005 to 2009.

Wilder wove an array of personal anecdotes into the hour-long lecture, titled “Leading the Way with Courage.” He discussed the importance of education and making voting easy. “I am more afraid of the fraud after the vote then the fraud before the vote,” he told the audience.

He also spoke about leadership, emphasizing that “leading is believing in yourself and not waiting for people to agree with you.”

Dean’s Dinner: “Improving Communities in North Carolina”


MPA Faculty member John Stephens (right) congratulates Jeremy Schmidt and Ruth Rivas, the first two MPA@UNC students to graduate from the program.

The evening closed with the Dean’s Dinner, a reception for current students, faculty, and alumni hosted by UNC School of Government Dean Mike Smith. Smith led an invigorating discussion in which he proposed that “government is the mechanism for improving community.”


At the dinner, alumna Vi Lyles received the Donald Hayman Distinguished Public Service Award, an honor given to individuals who exemplify high standards of service to the public and/or organizations they serve. An at-large representative on the Charlotte, North Carolina City Council, Lyles has worked for the City of Charlotte for almost 30 years.

Friday, November 7, 2014

On the second day of the conference, students attended a series of workshops that followed one of three tracks:

  • Leveraging Technology in the Public Sector
  • Changing Dynamics of the Public Workplace
  • Managing Now/


Jay Reinstein, Assistant City Manager of Fayetteville, NC speaks to MPA@UNC students about community engagement strategies.

From managing nonprofit budget streams to making social media work in the public sector, the day was made up of three concurrent sessions that covered a spectrum of topics.


For example, in a community engagement workshop, part of the Managing Now track, three speakers discussed how they used community input to strengthen local governance and management practices in North Carolina.

Faith Thompson, ombuds of the Town of Chapel Hill, talked about how her team used community outreach methods to create a strategic vision. The town gathered citizen input through many channels including light-hearted, informal gatherings at people’s homes. “We talked about a comprehensive plan over hors d’oeuvres and wine,” she said.

Cherie Jzar, community outreach coordinator for the City of Concord, discussed how her city has leveraged social media to engage and communicate with residents. One trend all three of the speakers were excited about is, a hyper-localized social networking site that can be used to connect residents of specific neighborhoods to other residents.

Alumni Business Meeting

The afternoon also included an Alumni Business Meeting in which new officers were announced and ratified. Upcoming graduates—both on-campus and online—had the opportunity to stand up, introduce themselves, and discuss their future aspirations. It was great to see the large classroom packed with alumni—a true indicator of the strength and passion of the alumni network.