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Alumni Profiles

Carolina MPA graduates attain leadership positions in every level of government and in organizations that support the public interest, utilizing their rigorous training to serve their communities.

Chief Operating Officer

Removing Hurdles for Military Families

Jennifer Barnhill is using her experiences with the online Master of Public Administration at UNC to create a new pathway for military families with special education needs—and leaders at all levels are taking notice.

After 15 years of relocations, deployments, and dealing with military bureaucracy, Barnhill took solace and found great camaraderie in her military spouse support group but couldn’t shake the idea that it wasn’t checking all the boxes.

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Senior Manager

Jennifer Christian worked on housing projects in central Appalachia during high school, each summer through college, and for five years after graduating. She had a passion to help others and saw the possibility of a career. In order to be most effective and have the greatest impact, she decided to earn an MPA. Now Jennifer helps create strong and sustainable governing boards nationwide that work to improve the lives of low-income families.

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Small Business Development Manager

When Nick Dula left his hometown of Lenoir for UNC-Chapel Hill in 2001, he could see the start of the economic devastation that would result from the offshoring of thousands of jobs in this once-thriving furniture manufacturing town. As an undergraduate majoring in economics and public policy, he was exposed to the concepts of economic and community development. Through subsequent work experiences, he saw the impact that local government could have on communities, and he decided to return to UNC for graduate school.

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Full Professor

When Sherick Hughes was deciding on a second Master’s degree program with a concentration on education policy, he knew one thing for sure: the highly regarded Carolina MPA program was the ONLY place to go. He first learned of the program while serving as a 1997 UNC Institute of Government intern for former Lieutenant Governor Dennis Wicker.

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Mayor & Attorney

Esther Manheimer’s interest in local government started even before her internship with the City of Asheville during her time in the Carolina MPA program. It kept building after law school when she staffed a local government committee as a new attorney for the North Carolina General Assembly, and when she returned to Asheville, appearing before planning commissions representing land use clients and working on the Asheville Board of Adjustment. Manheimer was elected to the Asheville City Council in 2009 and as mayor in 2013. She says, “As mayor, much of my time is spent listening to people.

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Executive Director

In his commencement address to the 2013 Carolina MPA graduating class, Chris Morrill credited MPA faculty and staff members as well as fellow alumni with helping him to advance his career at each juncture. He also credits his MPA education with providing him the essential skills needed for his work with local governments, both in the United States and abroad. "The challenges that local governments face are universal," Morrill says. "We must figure out how best to provide services, equitably distribute those services, do it efficiently, and involve others in making decisions.

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Retired Manager, Rocky Mount, NC

Charles W. Penny '80 worked in local government in North Carolina for 35 years. Starting in 1981 he served as assistant to the city manager in Morganton and Kinston and was then appointed assistant city manager of Asheville. In 1984, he joined the City of Rocky Mount, where he served as director of planning and development, assistant city manager, and city manager, successively, until his retirement in 2017.

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Budget Director

Charlie Perusse's career path started to take shape during an internship with the Wake County, North Carolina, budget office. He saw firsthand that all government services require sufficient financial resources in order to be successful. From fiscal analyst to state budget director to COO of the 17-campus UNC system, he has applied his interest in analytics, as well as his communication and critical thinking skills, to bring complex projects to fruition.

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Southeast Regional Director

Jane Preyer grew up in the outdoors of North Carolina, hiking, fishing, and spending time with her family. Years later, when she began to work on air quality issues for Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), she was devastated to learn that her native state was one of four regions with the dirtiest air in the country. Her passion for the environment helped fuel a campaign that resulted in passage of the 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act.

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Public Communications Specialist

Audrey Shore ’16 says that public service is a career and a way of living life. With a background in fundraising and communications, Shore has sought paid positions and volunteer opportunities that combine her strengths and challenge her professionally. Her passion for public service, both paid and unpaid, shows no signs of waning as she moves forward in her career

Shore has put her communications, fundraising, and data management skills to work for a variety of nonprofit, political, and higher education organizations as an intern, volunteer, and staff member.

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Principal / President

Mal Watlington ’69 worked in local government for six years before spending most of his career in the private sector. After attaining an MPA degree, he served as assistant county manager for Forsyth County then as assistant city manager and, later, as acting city manager for the City of Wilmington. Wilmington, a town emerging from a period of racial strife, served as a proving ground for innovations in citizen participation during the City and Community Development Block Grant budgeting processes.

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