Deil Wright

Public Administration Conference: Engaging Women and MPA@UNC

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This year’s public administration conference was the best ever.  The sessions were good and attendance was strong.  Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood did a nice job of talking about the importance of public service and bipartisanship in delivering the Deil S. Wright Lecture.  (Wright, pictured, was a distinguished MPA faculty member for more than 40 years before his passing in 2009.) Thanks to everyone who had a hand in organizing and delivering a first-rate conference.  Let me highlight two things from the conference.

The pre-conference session on “Engaging Women in Public Administration” was eye-opening and inspiring.  For example, did you know that women are well-represented among local government employees (40%) but not in management positions (13%)?  The more surprising fact is that those percentages have not changed since 1981.  In addition to organizing this session, Leisha DeHart-Davis also did a wonderful job of framing why it is important to engage women in our public organizations.  The keynote speaker was Marilu Goodyear, Director of the School of Public Administration at the University of Kansas.  She did a masterful job of blending academic research with stories from her own life to help all of us—men and women—see how to support and mentor women in our workplaces.  Margaret Henderson did a nice job of facilitating a conversation among the participants about engaging women.  The slow progress for women in local government leadership is unacceptable, but I am encouraged by this session and by the incredible pipeline of talented women (including our MPA students) who are ready to assume those positions.

Leisha DeHart-Davis

More than 20 students from MPA@UNC, the online format of our MPA program, attended the conference—many from North Carolina and others from Michigan and Texas.  It was so great to meet them.  I talked with a number of them at the conference and at a tail-gating event before the football game on Saturday.  They are remarkable!  I’m not surprised, but it is wonderful to interact with them and confirm that they are every bit as impressive as our on-campus students and our alumni.  I love the diverse experiences that they bring to their classes—a county librarian, a communications professional at a community college, a soldier, a student affairs professional at UNC-Asheville, a private-practice attorney who works on legislative issues, an economics teacher, and a special education teacher.  That is just a sampling.  They had high praise for the quality of the online program and talked about the satisfaction of immediately applying classroom concepts in their jobs.  The soldier I met is scheduled to ship overseas in January to help manage our withdrawal from Afghanistan—and he won’t have to interrupt his studies at all.


I was inspired by our online students, just as I’m always inspired by our on-campus MPA students.  We need these talented folks to help address the many challenges facing our communities.  MPA@UNC gives these students the opportunity to develop their skills by participating in a rigorous program that otherwise would be unavailable to them.  They are taking full advantage of that opportunity, and I’m confident that we will be as proud of their accomplishments as those of any other MPA alumni.  Special thanks to everyone at the School and at 2U who has worked in different ways to guarantee an excellent experience for our online students.

2 thoughts on “Public Administration Conference: Engaging Women and MPA@UNC

  1. I was REALLY inspired by the number of on-line student that attended and how much they participated. The comments I had from students in my two on-line courses the past two evenings were incredible – people who attended telling those who didn’t what an incredible time they missed, talk about coming back next year – one from Florida said, “This really confirmed why I am so happy with choosing the UNC program. I had a fantastic time” Basically they are connecting with each other in the same or even a closer way than with our residential students. With the new students, I feel a new ‘life’ to our future prospects as a program, and the potential to have national impact.

    There was a time when I questioned the value of this conference – the cost versus the impact. Separately, when developing the on-line program plan, we talked about ways in which we could get students to visit campus, to improve their experience and better engage them for the future as alumni. Now I am convinced that this could be a key event to integrate the two program experiences and re-invirgorate our alumni connections. One of my on-line students said she had several alums ask her to send them her resume after the networking lunch session. She was floored, thrilled, scared, but going to follow up this morning.

    I couldn’t make the tail-gate – not having been to a UNC football game (I’m a soccer fan) I underestimated the lack of parking even anywhere near the SOG hours prior to the game. But I attended in car-trapped spirit with my kids who were sorry to miss the hot dogs. I know who you met though, Mike – the librarian was Brian (research paper is on impact of local library job training programming), the communications person was Paula (paper was on link between unemployment and community college enrollment, which counter to theory breaks down in different regions of NC), the soldier could have been Amanda, who dressed for her final presentation last night in uniform (documented detailed state income tax policy provisions for military or retirees in all fifty states) , or John Mark, leaving for Afganistan next month (examining the community coordination aspect of an anti-opiate program proposed for Fayetteville) , or a number of others. The economics teacher was Robert, one of the most supportive people to everyone else. What is so important to me harks back to one of your earlier posts, Mike, on communicating research in order to have impact. That is what each of these folks wants to do.

    Is there a way we can capture this type of impact when we think about our role in improving local government as well as our impact in educating the individual? What is our ‘multiplier’ effect?

  2. Thanks, Mike. The engaging women conference was amazing, in no small part due to the fabulous SOG team including Jean Coble (who called attention to the gender differences in career paths of MPA students and who handled the details that made the event successful) and Kim Nelson (who, by the way, is serving on the ICMA Task Force on Women). The energy in the room was palpable; a chord has been struck. Next stop: Engaging Women in Public Service, June 2014.

    Ditto Maureen’s comments on the quality of our online students, the importance of the PA conference to integrating them in to the program, and the amazing research they’ve undertaken in her class.

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