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Public Administration

MPA Alumni Spotlight: Rayvon Walker and Jack Ahern

The Global Courtyard on main campus. Photo by Marc Hall

Rayvon Walker

I serve as a planner for the City of Kannapolis, NC, and I have been in my current position for almost a year. 

As a planner in Kannapolis, I have a number of duties. Some of the job responsibilities include: conducting planning analysis of project proposals to determine consistency with the city’s land development regulations, reviewing development and land use permit applications, guiding small and large development projects through city review cycles, and coordinating the city’s weekly Technical Review Committee meetings, which involves a multi-department group of city officials discussing projects in the city. 

There are many aspects of the job that I enjoy, but the one thing that I most enjoy is meeting residents and helping them to develop their properties. It gives me great joy to get to know the residents and provide them with permits to use their property in a way that they intended.  

While there are aspects of this position that I enjoy, there are other parts that are challenging. The most challenging part of the job is when I have to tell residents or developers that they cannot use a property in their desired way based on Kannapolis’ codes. That is the most challenging part because I have to deliver bad news to people at times by turning down their plans.  Despite that challenge, I believe that as a planner my job is to find solutions for people, so I make sure that I communicate what uses are allowed on any given property.

A typical workday involves me answering people’s inquiries about what they can and cannot do with various properties based on the city’s code. For example, I inform people about if and how they can do an addition to their homes or put a shed in their yard.  Also, managing projects and communicating with project managers while their plans are being reviewed takes up a good portion of my workday.  In addition, my workday entails participating in meetings where developers come to the city to discuss and receive our feedback about their projects. Overall, a typical workday for me is doing a great bit of problem-solving.

The MPA program prepared me for my current position by offering courses that taught technical skills that I use in my current position.  For example, I effectively conduct public policy analyses and use software like Microsoft Excel because of the MPA program. In addition, the MPA program at NC State further instilled in me important values of public service such as being responsive and transparent. These are values that I carry to the office with me to this day and going forward.

As a MPA student, I enjoyed engaging in discussion and learning with my peers. The courses offered in the MPA program pushed us to discuss and collaborate on a host of issues involving public administration. As a result of us engaging with each other, I believe that we were able to help each other become better public servants. 

Yes, I had the opportunity to complete hands-on experiences while in the program. I had the opportunity to do a summer internship in the Town of Benson, NC, and another longer term internship with the City of Sanford, NC. Those internships provided me with the experience of learning how local government operates on a daily basis, and I was able to experience how small to midsize jurisdictions are governed as well. In addition, the capstone course for the program was a great opportunity for me to showcase all that I learned from the MPA program, and from that hands-on experience I gained greater confidence in my public service skills.

My favorite part of the MPA program was meeting and connecting with my peers. That was my favorite part because I enjoyed learning about the different career and life experiences of my peers. Learning my peers’ experiences helped to sharpen my own thoughts of public service and administration.

I found out that the most challenging part of public administration was actually receiving my first full-time job offer. To be completely transparent, it took me well over a year to land a full-time position in the public administration field. I interviewed for multiple positions for various career opportunities in the public sector, but in many cases I was the runner-up for the positions. So, I found it most interesting that landing a full-time position would be a struggle for me after receiving my MPA degree with a good amount of professional experience. Despite those setbacks, I persevered, and eventually, I was able to receive the offer for my current position. 

My advice for those considering a career in public administration would be to keep the citizens or the people you are serving as your guiding light. In my view, public service and administration is about placing the needs of others above your own. I have seen in my public administration career how officials can seem to lose sight of the fact that their main goal is serving the citizens by placing their personal ambitions first. From my perspective on the governmental side of public administration, I would let anyone considering this kind of public service career that it can be frustrating navigating through regulations and office politics. However, if you come into work with a mindset of helping citizens fulfill their needs, then all of your efforts are of value. 

Jack Ahern

As of February, I currently serve as the director of annual giving for UNC libraries. I enjoy thinking strategically about our donor base for how to best support all the libraries at UNC Chapel Hill. It can be challenging to have to hone down all your ideas into what you can realistically accomplish with limited resources. However, I think that gets me to focus more on the big picture and assess the value of everything I spend time on.

My typical workday varies depending on the time of year. Often it includes, working one on one with donors to connect them to areas of support, developing, planning, writing appeals or completing donor analysis to understand donor trends and assess progress toward goals.

I took many excellent nonprofit and fundraising-specific classes with Mandi Stewart and adjunct professor Stan Holt when I was in the MPA program. They equipped me to think holistically about nonprofits and how to communicate the needs of an organization. Additionally, management systems and policy analysis reframed for me how organizations can best function and accomplish their mission.

I made so many connections and friends while I was in the MPA program at NC State. Many of those connections I still have today both as professional relationships and as great friends.

I had a few hands-on experiences working while I was in the MPA program. I had graduate assistantships with the MPA program and with the Center for Nonprofits which helped me gain experience in writing and project management. During my summers, I worked for the Davis Phinney Foundation, an organization focused on helping those with Parkinson’s live well today. At the Davis Phinney Foundation, I assisted with volunteer-based fundraising and learned many of the soft skills that I utilize today.

The MPA program taught me how to think strategically and holistically. Doing so early on in my career has only benefited my professional growth.

Having limited resources is both a challenge and something that keeps public administration interesting. You have to get creative sometimes, but it shows how small changes can have a big impact.

Find what you enjoy doing on a day-to-day basis and there is likely a career path you can have in public administration. As more of an introvert, I never thought I would be able to work in fundraising for a big university. However, I’ve learned that my skill sets are perfectly suited for annual giving fundraising. I have to communicate with donors and volunteers, write concisely and cohesively and think through trends in giving, which are all things I think are fun! At UNC Development there are many people like me and just as many people who are very different, but we all come together to accomplish a collective goal. No matter your skill set and personality type, there is a way you can have an impact.