Luis “Felipe” Martinez began his public sector career thanks to a chance encounter. While waiting tables one summer during college, he struck up a conversation with a customer.
As it turned out, Martinez was attending the man’s alma mater. After learning that Martinez was studying economics, the customer handed Martinez a business card for his job at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Martinez thought that would be the end of the story—until the Great Recession of 2008 began.
“The economy crashed, and I was trying to hustle my way into an internship. I randomly remembered the card I had in my wallet and decided to e-mail my contact,” he said.
Martinez followed up, and his persistence paid off: His fellow alumnus found a way to bring him on the team.
Economics for the Public Good
Eleven years later, that chance encounter has transformed into a full-fledged career. Martinez has helped the BLS produce important economic data like the Employer Cost Index, which tracks the wages and benefits of American workers over time. The accurate, objective, and relevant economic indicators he generates allow policymakers to effectively address complex social problems.
While many of his fellow economics majors looked to land high-paying roles in the private sector, Martinez feels confident that government is the right place for him. “Truthfully, I have no interest in Wall Street or Fortune 500 companies,” he said. “I like being a public servant.”
But Martinez wanted to be able to translate his statistics prowess into other types of public sector work, including policymaking or state and local government leadership, which prompted him to pursue an MPA. “I wanted to gain additional skills and knowledge to become an administrator not just at a statistical agency,” he said, “but anywhere in government.”
“I wanted to gain additional skills and knowledge to become an administrator not just at a statistical agency, but anywhere in government.”
Prioritizing Professional and Educational Goals
Although Martinez considered attending a full-time, on-campus MPA program, he ultimately determined that wasn’t the best path forward. “For me, quitting my job and doing school full time just wasn’t an option. I really like my current job and wanted to keep my career momentum,” he said. Maintaining his income while earning his degree, he added, was part of what drew him to the MPA@UNC program.
Martinez is also a North Carolina native who had grown up thinking he would attend UNC for his undergraduate degree. He ended up attending college outside his home state, but when he began researching top MPA programs, “UNC’s online format stood out as a natural fit.”
He has found UNC’s online academic environment to be a critical factor in his ability to balance school, work, and life. “I have already noticed the care and availability of the UNC MPA community. Professors take the time to respond to e-mail questions very quickly,” he said. “It’s been a great experience.”
And in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, being able to continue taking classes online has helped preserve his sense of normalcy. “With everything in the world changing so drastically over these past few weeks, the one consistent part of my life is my MPA work,” he said.
“I have already noticed the care and availability of the UNC MPA community. Professors take the time to respond to e-mail questions very quickly. It’s been a great experience.”
Looking to the Future with New Leadership Skills
In the course of his tenure at the BLS, Martinez has come to learn that staff members with only technical skills are often not well-equipped to take on leadership roles. “Those jobs are more focused on high-level strategy and problem solving than on the technical economist work itself,” he said.
“The class that has helped me the most at work so far is my Communications class, which teaches fundamentals of public sector writing and public speaking. I actually even gave my boss my ‘persuasive’ essay to try to convince him to purchase some software!”
Once he graduates, Martinez will consider taking on a management role within his agency or transferring his skills to another area of government. “Whether an economist wants to stay specifically in the economist/statistician space, or potentially move on to other opportunities,” he said, “MPAs have great value.”