Mike Silver

Current Student

Assistant District Attorney

Why earn a Master of Public Administration degree?
As an attorney, people think that you have a certain skill set that you might not possess. People may give you promotions because you’ve done well in the courtroom, but doing well in the courtroom does not necessarily translate to being a manager or a leader who can sit on boards. MPA@UNC gave me a chance to learn a lot of the leadership skills that people thought I had but didn’t actually possess coming out of law school.

What did you look for in an MPA program?
Everyone who works in public interest law, like I do, knows that the UNC School of Government is the premier institution, not just in North Carolina, but nationwide. I wanted to learn from all the scholars who were writing the books on public administration as well as boast about that respected North Carolina graduate distinction.

What was it about MPA@UNC that was most appealing to you?
I’ve been a prosecutor for six years now, and I’ve acquired a lot of responsibilities and financial obligations. I wasn’t able to quit my job and move in order to go back to school full time. I was looking for a program that gave me the flexibility to continue working and still get the education and skills to become a better leader—long term—within my office.

Did you have any concerns about attending an online program?
When I first started looking at this program, there were a lot of concerns about online education. To be honest, I had my own doubts about the type of education and networking that an online education could provide. What UNC has done—particularly the School of Government—is create a close-knit group of people. We have a lot of face-to-face contact with our professors, and I’ve met a lot of other students and alumni. Because the admissions requirements are the same as in the residential program, any concern about a watered-down degree disappears.

Do you feel the social and networking aspects of the program have been beneficial?
My classmates and I actually joke about this all the time. When I started this program, I really had no interest in interacting with my classmates. I was coming in just for the education. Once I started though, that all changed. I have a classmate who’s having a baby, and we all went in together and bought her a baby gift. When people come to Winston-Salem, we always get together to have lunch and hang out. Anytime I’m in one of their areas, the first thing I do is say, “Hey, I’m coming in; let’s get together.” It’s really neat how we’ve quickly become friends, and the social dynamics of a real classroom play out on the platform as well.

Can you talk about some of the unique ways students have attended class?
We had a classmate in the first cohort who logged on [for class] from a cruise somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle. She’s out there where you’re not even supposed to be found, and she is on the platform, seamless stream, engaged and involved in the class. I think if you can do it from the Bermuda Triangle, you can do it anywhere.

How have you been able to apply what you’ve learned?
There hasn’t been a class I’ve taken that I haven’t been able to immediately use in my field of work. I feel like my press releases to the newspapers have gotten significantly better, my interview skills have improved, and the way I manage the people that I supervise has changed drastically. It’s not just that I’m getting the benefit. I think, holistically, our office is improving because I am learning good strategies that other people are witnessing, and then they’re also adopting these same strategies. I think it’s a win-win, not just for me but for my entire office.

How has MPA@UNC impacted your career?
When I first signed up for this program, my boss and I had an agreement that it would not interfere with my work. We were talking last week and he said, “Not only has this not affected your work, but it’s actually enhanced your work,” not just within the DA’s office but on the boards I sit on. I’ve been able to take different subcommittee roles. I got on the finance committee, which is something I never would have done before. This program has allowed me to branch out and do other things, so I think everyone has noticed how that has benefited me and how it is benefiting everyone else.

Is there anything that surprised you about the program?
The one thing that I’d say surprised me is the professors’ level of commitment to the program. They’ve got their residential students who they see daily, and sometimes you wonder if you’re just the collateral part of the program. One thing that’s surprising is how the professors really embraced the program—how much they like it. If you’re going to get a degree, you want to feel valued, and I feel like UNC and the School of Government have done a good job of making us feel that way.

What are your career goals?
My goal is to be an elected official, either the elected district attorney or in a position somewhere in Raleigh. Those positions require a lot of different skill sets. You need to be able to be an effective manager, you need to be a leader, you need to know how to do a lot of things fiscally, socially, and interpersonally. Those were the skill sets that I didn’t have. UNC and the School of Government have allowed me to feel confident in my education and confident in my abilities, and that’s why I’m a huge advocate of the program.

Do you feel like you are part of the UNC community?
Being a part of this program, I definitely feel like a Tar Heel. A lot of my coworkers went to Chapel Hill either for undergrad or law school, and everyone has indoctrinated me into the Tar Heel family. Everyone says, “Well, where are we going to put your Old Well plaque in your office?” We really are a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and that is certainly a good brand to be affiliated with.

Why is MPA@UNC a good degree for lawyers?
When you go to law school, a lot of what you learn is legal theory—that’s the primary focus—and there’s a lot of emphasis on taking the classes that are necessary to pass the bar. Then, you can also have an individual focus on the type of law you want to practice. Mine was public interest, so I did a lot of clinic. What I did not get in law school was management training. I didn’t get budget experience. I didn’t get actual leadership skills—how to manage a staff of attorneys. How do you manage the relationship with my legal assistant who’s 60, and I’m 34? How do you deal with budget cuts in Raleigh? How do you handle monetary concerns within the county or the city? Those are things that you don’t learn in law school, and that is what MPA@UNC gives you.

MPA@UNC gives you the knowledge and experience to deal with all of the collateral things that law school doesn’t teach you, yet you are expected to do—and do well—on a daily basis. Add the connection to the School of Government—as anyone who works in public interest knows, they’re who you call when you have a problem and need to get answers. Being taught by those professors makes you an immediate authority, and that is the true benefit of MPA@UNC.