From serving as a local volunteer to founding a new chapter for a nonprofit, Tracy Miles has drawn from her personal and professional background to pursue her passion for public service.
Finding Her Path
In 2010, Tracy began volunteering at her local chapter of Girls on the Run, an international nonprofit that empowers girls to develop life skills through exercise. When her family relocated to Greensboro, North Carolina, in 2014, she discovered the nonprofit didn’t have a presence there. Tracy soon launched a Greensboro chapter, becoming its founding executive director in the process.
Her chapter was an initial success—despite the fact that she didn’t have a nonprofit background or sophisticated accounting, financial management, or human resource skills. Soon, though, she realized she needed to build those skills to keep serving as an effective leader.
Tracy decided she wanted to pursue her Master of Public Administration and continue following her passion for public service. The mom and business leader considered several programs but needed one that worked with her schedule.
This led her to MPA@UNC.
Breaking Preconceptions about Online Education
The MPA@UNC program has allowed Tracy to advance her education without relocating—and even changed her preconceptions about online learning.
“I initially thought this was going to be almost self-driven,” she said. “You watch a video and then maybe write something about it.” But the program exceeded her expectations.
“You’re looking at everyone [on the screen],” she said. “You see the instructor and your fellow students, so you can gauge people’s reactions to what’s being said. You have that intimate sort of feedback. I think even in a traditional lecture environment you don’t get that because everyone’s focus is on the instructor.”
Getting Support: How She Does It All
As Tracy sees it, “You can’t do anything alone. I think that’s true in my personal life. It’s true in my professional life. It’s true in public service. Anything that’s done is not done in isolation but from the collective strength of many people.”
She says she couldn’t have balanced grad school with work and a small child at home without her husband and the MPA@UNC faculty.
Her husband was a constant support system, as he knew how meaningful the program was to her. As for the faculty: “They become such advocates for you as a student. I actually felt like online students had an advantage because we had two faculty members for every class, two people we could go to.”
With her support systems behind her and an MPA under her belt, Tracy recently accepted a new position as deputy director for the UNC School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership and Governance. But she didn’t leave Girls on the Run behind. She currently sits on the board and says she’ll always have a connection with the organization because she strongly believes in its values and mission .
“I want to take this experience that was so meaningful to me and turn it into something that’s meaningful for other people,” she said. “I want to have a positive impact on the lives of citizens, not just here in Carolina, but nationally.”