Meredith Marlier is a helper in every sense. As a public school teacher, she supports students with severe disabilities.
“It doesn’t feel like work,” she said. “I love what I do and consider myself lucky to have found it.”
Marlier decided to earn a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree to go further in her field and become a better advocate for her amazing—but chronically underserved—students. Too often, she said, policymakers treat the special education community as an afterthought. As result, neither students nor educators receive the resources, access, or support they need to thrive.
“Instead of trying to get all the people who make the decisions to come and learn about my kids, I decided it was time I become one of those people myself.”
Balancing Career, Work, and Family
Marlier compared several universities and MPA programs, carefully evaluating factors like curricula, tuition, rankings, and reputation. The UNC School of Government consistently came out on top.
“They made me feel like they wanted to see how we could grow, learn and do great things together—like I wasn’t just a tuition check.”
While she was initially hesitant about the prospect of learning online, Marlier said the relationships she has developed in her first two semesters are much like the ones she’d expect to develop through an in-person program.
“I have really gotten to know my peers and form friendships. We email, find each other on LinkedIn and Facebook, and use the chat feature during class…sometimes more than we should!”
As the single mother of an eight-year-old son and a three-month-old puppy, Marlier said the program has allowed her to balance professional, academic, and personal priorities.
“I don’t have any family here in Kansas, so going to class in person would mean paying a babysitter. On a teacher’s salary, the cost of going back to school and raising a kid is already stretching my budget paper-thin.”
Instead, Marlier and her son can spend more time together, eat a meal, and play with the dog before she starts class. It’s not always perfect, but it’s not impossible either.
“[During class], he always has a question or two, typically about how many healthy snacks he has to eat before he can have something sugary, but the professors are very understanding.”
The best part? The opportunity to set a powerful example.
“I get to show my son that there are no excuses for not going after what you want in life. He sees that every Tuesday when I log into class.”
Creating a Tar Heel Community
Though Marlier is based in Kansas, she has already started building a local Tar Heel network.
“Several members of my school district’s Central Office, including our superintendent, are UNC alumni, so becoming a Tar Heel myself is definitely a great ice breaker,” she said. “I have even come into my classroom to find a ‘Go Heels’ Post-It on my UNC water bottle from an unknown visitor.”
Professionally, Marlier no longer has to rely on others to speak up for her students and fellow educators. After beginning the MPA program, she put her new skills to work immediately by joining her school district’s Strategic Planning Committee as well as the Kansas National Education Association negotiating team.
“I get to make sure that my students and their needs are considered through every step of that process. As I continue to reach out to more public servants and get involved in more committees, I can’t wait to see how our efforts will translate into new initiatives and systemwide changes for my students.”