With a father who served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam and five siblings who served either as military personnel or military spouses, Michael Barclift comes from an undeniably dedicated military family. “I guess you could call it the family business,” he jokes.
As such, Barclift learned the importance of being part of a community and serving others from a young age. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy with an engineering degree, he served in the navy for almost 22 years as a surface warfare officer, performing “an amazing variety of jobs at sea and ashore, including Command at Sea of a destroyer, which was by far the highlight of my time in the military.”
“I got to see the world up close. One of the most important things I learned traveling the world in the navy is that the aspirations of people are remarkably similar whether they live in a modern, developed country or in an area of the world with next to nothing in the way of money, possessions, education, or freedoms,” says Barclift.
“People everywhere want to feel safe in their homes, want to provide for their families, and they want to belong—to be accepted by others they respect. I have not seen an exception to this rule anywhere in the world.”
No matter where Barclift was stationed, he found the human need for safety, security, and a sense of community remained steadfast. “People everywhere want to feel safe in their homes, want to provide for their families, and they want to belong—to be accepted by others they respect. I have not seen an exception to this rule anywhere in the world,” he says.
Staying of Service to Others After Active Duty
When Barclift decided to leave active duty, he pursued a career as a financial advisor, as it allowed him to continue helping others find that sense of safety and security based on their circumstances. However, after 15 successful years in the role, he found himself drawn to return to public service in some capacity.
“In the navy, I observed that when the government pays you to serve others there is no ethical conflict of interest. You do your best every day with what you have available, and you help people live a better life than they are right now,” says Barclift.
“When I started considering what to study, public administration was an easy fit for me. Leadership. Service. Professionalism. Hard work. That is the essence of public administration.”
To get back to service-oriented mindset from his years in the navy, Barclift decided it was time to continue his education. “I wanted to learn something new,” he says. “When I started considering what to study, public administration was an easy fit for me. Leadership. Service. Professionalism. Hard work. That is the essence of public administration.”
“Why Not Me?”
A family man through and through, Barclift says his confidence in his decision to pursue an MPA came from his son. “I was talking to my son one day about his future and career, and he turned the conversation around and said, ‘You know, Dad, you should get back into leadership again. That’s what you do best.'”
“Pretty good advice,” says Barclift. The other primary driver in Barclift’s decision to pursue an MPA came from witnessing the decline of his hometown in Illinois over the past two decades.
“I am 100% convinced if they had access to the type of leaders that UNC’s MPA develops, the town would be a very different place today.”
“It went from being a safe, thriving, fulfilling place to live and raise a family to a shell of its former self with half the population it had when I graduated high school,” he says. “It happened because of an absence of leadership, organizational ability, and technical skills needed to deal with the complexities of interacting with state and federal government during a time of change. I am 100% convinced if they had access to the type of people UNC’s MPA develops, the town would be a very different place today.”
“There is plenty of important work to do out there and someone must do it. Why not me?”
As a result, Barclift is determined to be an advocate for struggling communities similar to his hometown, and UNC’s online MPA is helping him on his public service leadership journey. “There is plenty of important work to do out there and someone must do it. Why not me?”
An MPA That Prioritizes Diversity
Soon after beginning his MPA search, Barclift discovered UNC’s online program and it clicked. “The program’s leadership focus is a good fit for my background and interests, and they actively seek and value the perspectives of a diverse student population,” he says.
“Military experience is not something UNC looks for to ‘check a box.’ It is part of the overall student experience,” Barclift continues. “To make having students with a military background a priority speaks volumes to the community they have built here over the years.”
Appreciating MPA@UNC’s intentional balance of online and in-person learning experiences, he cites that the “immersion courses, on-campus electives, and seats at professional conferences are just some of the in-person opportunities available. They enhance the experience of being a graduate student in an online program.”
Additionally, he recognized the value of attending an online MPA program with deep roots in the digital space. “UNC’s online program is mature. It was around long before COVID emerged and ‘Zoom’ was an everyday term. I had no worries about their ability to execute. They run a serious program taught and staffed by a community focused on students and their success.”
“UNC’s online program is mature. [. . .] They run a serious program taught and staffed by a community focused on students and their success.”
As for the UNC School of Government faculty? “They know how to teach and love doing it,” he says. “Class is fun, the time literally flies by, and it has a pace that keeps everyone engaged without leaving people behind.”
“The professors make themselves available directly,” he continues. “And they do a great job reminding us that we are part of the UNC community. They are the ones who really help make that connection. It is a small piece of the experience, but it is important.”
Whether enlisted in the military or enrolled in MPA@UNC, Barclift thrives while being part of—and especially in service of—a community.