Julia Farinas

Chief of Client Services for the 82nd Airborne Division

Captain Julia Farinas has built a career around helping the underrepresented. After getting her bachelor’s in history at Loyola University in New Orleans and attending law school at Tulane University, Farinas discovered a passion for advocacy at the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR), a nonprofit organization that provides holistic legal representation for children caught up in the justice system.

Three years of hard but rewarding work with LCCR convinced her that she wanted a career in public service. "A lot of lawyers go to work at big firms to make a lot of money. I knew that wasn’t my personality."

Committed to Advocacy

After her formative nonprofit experience, Farinas went on active duty with the military, where she continued to advocate for the underserved, moving from base to base in a variety of positions, including two years as a legal representative for victims of sexual assault. She never forgot about her ultimate goal to return to her hometown of New Orleans and work in child advocacy for nonprofits.

“My work in New Orleans made me realize that you have the largest impact on the most people when you’re working in public service.”

"In the army you get a lot of experience and you see a lot of things, but the foundational nonprofit work that I had done in NOLA is something I’ve always wanted to go back to," she says. "In a perfect world, I think a lot of nonprofits would be obsolete, because basic goods and services would be available to everyone regardless of grant funding."

"My work in New Orleans made me realize that you have the largest impact on the most people when you’re working in public service."

The Right Degree for Opening Doors

Farinas’s experience in the nonprofit world gave her a firm understanding of the internal workings of organizations, how they succeed, and how they interact with government agencies. "Understanding how the money works is really what made me want an MPA. A lot of the other logistics you can learn from on-the-ground training, but there is an aspect of budget, finance, and grant writing that you can’t learn as you go."

Being a lawyer gave her experience in many areas but one: leadership. "A JD program, in a lot of ways, teaches you how to be a technician," she says. "You know how to put together a case; you know how to analyze facts and the law. But that doesn’t relate to how to deal with people, how to manage people, how to supervise, how to budget, along with other supervisory tasks that are required of leaders. That’s what the MPA program has done for me, and it’s why I sought it out."

Farinas firmly believes that an MPA is crucial for those with juris doctor degrees and big dreams. "There is no lawyer I know who says: ‘I just want to try cases and stay in the same place my whole career.’ Everyone wants an upward trajectory, and that’s what the MPA program is doing for me."

“There is no lawyer I know who says: ‘I just want to try cases and stay in the same place my whole career.’ Everyone wants an upward trajectory, and that’s what the MPA program is doing for me.”

When Farinas decided to support her goal by pursuing a Master of Public Administration, UNC was already at the top of her list.

"Everyone at Fort Bragg spoke highly of the program because it’s focused on government service," she says, citing the high number of UNC School of Government graduates at Fort Bragg as how she learned about the MPA program. "Many army leaders have also recommended the program to me."

As an active duty lawyer, the flexibility of an online program was crucial for Farinas. It was also important to her to get a degree "from a reputable place, from a well-known recognizable institution. UNC’s program was far and away the best one that fit my criteria."

“Everyone at Fort Bragg spoke highly of the program because it’s focused on government service. Many army leaders have also recommended the program to me.”

She says that the UNC online MPA program has already improved her skills. "I’m up for a promotion in the army this year from senior captain to major, so I’ll be in upper management. Being in the MPA program is a huge advantage for me and has given me the confidence to serve people well."

The Flexibility to Succeed

At UNC, Farinas is learning exactly what she needs to know to synthesize her past work experiences and take her career to the next level. She takes classes on a schedule that works for her busy life. "My main goal in this program was not to just complete the program but to learn the information."

As a full-time active duty working mother, Farinas advises students to manage their time. "I would tell anyone coming into the program to manage their expectations that there will be a time deficit," she says. She praises the program’s synchronous classes, saying, "I would never do an online program that didn’t have synchronous work. Those classes are very useful."

Farinas had a baby in April 2020, right in the middle of an intense time at work that has continued throughout the pandemic. "The Immediate Response Force was called up out of the 82nd Airborne Division in January 2020 to go to Iraq, and we had 72 hours to push out 3,700 soldiers." The changes in her personal and work life also coincided with the beginning of the semester.

“It’s my experience that the faculty will bend over backward to help.”

"If I missed class, they were great about making sure I didn’t miss the material. The fact that the professors have a baseline understanding that I am a working parent has been the reason I have been able to continue with the program through COVID, with a new baby, and with work being insane. It’s my experience that the faculty will bend over backward to help," Farinas says.