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Public Administration

Ph.D. Student Spotlight: Kara Lawrence

Kara Lawrence.

What drew you to the field of public administration?

I grew up in a rural area with limited resources and this early background helped to inspire my inclination to public and nonprofit service. I have an inherent desire to improve access to basic resources for human needs for education, healthcare, mental health, housing, food, and clean water whether in my rural hometown or villages in low or middle-income countries. Public and nonprofit organizations are most often responsible for this service delivery, and I want to explore equitable ways to improve their reach and capacity.

Why did you choose the Ph.D. program at NC State?

I chose NC State University as it is part of the research triangle, allowed me to study state, national, or global issues, and had both nonprofit and public management specializations. When I visited the campus, I loved the beautiful trees and spacious campus. Both students and professors alike were warm and welcoming. It is also an amazing place to raise a family with amazing schools and parks. We also love being 2 hours from the beach and 2 hours from the mountains.

What are your career goals?

My career goal is to make a difference in access and equitable service in communities with limited resources. I want to enhance the voices of these communities for their own self-determination and community development. Another goal and passion of mine is to mentor others. As a first-generation college student myself, I want to provide an open door for questions and be an inspiring voice for others to pursue what they are passionate about and show them how it is possible.

Additionally, as a female academic, public and nonprofit service that allows for compassion and expresses itself in caring, nurturing, responsive, and listening ways is vital to alleviate human suffering. As an educator and practitioner, my compassion and emphasis on equity are assets I bring to foster a desire for public good and voluntary action, promote a public service ethic, and support problem-solving for global issues.

What have you found to be the most interesting and/or challenging part of public administration?

I love studying voluntary action and serving the public good. Being civically engaged myself and encouraging others towards civic engagement, whether it is volunteering in a refugee organization or cleaning up a park, I love to see others go outside of themselves to serve something bigger.
The most challenging part is explaining what I do to others!

What has been your favorite part of the Ph.D. program so far?

My favorite part of the Ph.D. program has been the autonomy and flexibility of the program to pursue your own research interests to the fullest within a supportive and collaborative environment.

What advice do you have for students considering a Ph.D.?

It is the same advice my mentor in the MPA program told me, make sure you really want it and then ask yourself again to make certain you are sure it is what you really want. Another mentor had said if you have a burning question or social issue/problem that keeps you up at night, this kind of intense life and narrow specialization of interest might also be for you. Academic life is fascinating and gives great flexibility, but it does take a toll on all other aspects of your life. There are a lot of rewarding times and disheartening times. In those lows, it is important to remember why you started and why you care about this issue, and that you might be the only one trying to solve or highlight it. For me, ultimately, I hope to have an impact in practice and in research for the issues I care about and pursuing a Ph.D. has allowed me to meet so many amazing individuals also striving for this change towards equitable service and accountability.