Adrienne Augustus

Adrienne Augustus spent her childhood stepping up. As a peer leader, a Girl Scout, and class president, she was always looking for ways to serve her community. Years later, she’s still wholly dedicated to that mission.

After graduating with a BA in Journalism from the University of Maryland, she began a reporting career in Greenville, North Carolina. “I was hoping to help my community by uncovering the ills of our world and eliciting positive change, one news story at a time,” she says.

Seven years and one Emmy nomination for investigative reporting later, she shifted to the demanding world of corporate communications.

Community service never took a backseat. She served on the board of directors for a local Girl Scouts affiliate. She supported the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. She volunteered with local nonprofit organizations by lending her extensive knowledge of communications, public relations, and fundraising efforts. The more she contributed, the more she reconsidered her priorities—and her career goals.

An MPA “Just Made Sense”

“After building a professional career stressing about corporate bottom lines, I decided if I was going to be stressed out about work, the work needed to matter,” she says.

In 2015, she left the for-profit sector and dove face-first into finding the right master’s program—one that would allow her to elevate her professional know-how and pursue a new career direction.

“After building a professional career stressing about corporate bottom lines, I decided if I was going to be stressed out about work, the work needed to matter.”

Augustus started exploring Master of Public Administration (MPA) programs. An MPA would help her understand the complex, evolving relationships between governments and communities. It would also give her the versatile skill set she’d need to take charge in a nonprofit environment. The more she thought about it, the more “it just made sense.”

“When I read about the MPA program at UNC, I realized I had found the beginning of my new career,” she says. “The opportunity to take electives that focused on nonprofit management was the icing on the cake.”

Aligning Public Service and Mental Health Equity

Augustus started the program with a renewed sense of purpose and an ambitious goal: to found her own nonprofit organization.

“I initially expected to use my degree to build a career as a nonprofit management consultant, mental health advocate, and public speaker,” she says. “But then an incredible UNC MPA administrator offered me the opportunity to lay the groundwork for my nonprofit a year before graduation. The time I spent launching the organization would fulfill a graduation requirement, but we never expected my efforts to move so quickly from concept to reality.”

Guided by that momentum and support, Augustus founded A Beautiful Mind Foundation (ABMF). ABMF funds organizations that address the cultural differences impacting communities of color and the unique challenges those communities face in receiving mental health support. Its mission is to “positively impact lives by investing in culturally competent mental health services that educate, enlighten, and empower our diverse community.”

“We never expected my efforts to move so quickly from concept to reality.”

Augustus says her own experiences, volunteerism, and mental health struggles have “very clearly” informed the organization’s development.

“As an African American woman, I have faced challenges finding doctors and support groups that provided the kind of treatment I needed—not just as an individual with bipolar disorder, but as a whole person who faces adversity unique to Black Americans,” she says. “Members of the Latinx, Asian American, and Native American communities also face unique challenges when addressing mental illness that are shaped by their culture, native language, and generations of well-established norms and generations-old traumas.”

Identifying and funding organizations that acknowledge and respect those cultural differences is critical. That’s where ABMF comes in.

“Despite the coronavirus pandemic, we brought in nearly $26,000 in just 10 months of fundraising—and nearly all of it came from individual donors,” she says. In July, the board of directors announced the foundation’s first 20 grant recipients, representing 10 states and the District of Columbia, with awards totaling $22,315.

A Powerful Tar Heel Network

“UNC Tar Heel footprints are all over the creation and ongoing development of this organization,” says Augustus. “Two board members are UNC MPA alum—Molly Murray and Debbie Adams. One I met in class and the other I met at a virtual MPA happy hour. Three other volunteers I met through my online MPA courses. Two out of the three of us who led our inaugural grant-making cycle are recent UNC MPA graduates.”

Augustus says countless others, including MPA staff and professors, have made personal financial contributions, donated through family funds, offered priceless advice, and offered other forms of support. Through it all, she’s had multiple chances to reflect on her education—and the true meaning of service.

“UNC Tar Heel footprints are all over the creation and ongoing development of this organization.”

“Being an effective part of the public sector requires so much more than learning how to do a job. Earning an MPA at UNC teaches you how to be a leader in the public sector—how to make a meaningful, positive impact for your community, whether it be at the local, state, or national level. If you truly want to be a public servant and make a positive change in our community, an MPA will give you the know-how to lead not just effectively, but ethically and equitably too.”

The last three years of Augustus’ life have unfolded in ways she never could have expected. “Busy” doesn’t begin to cover it: She’s earned an MPA. She’s founded a nonprofit organization. On top of it all, she’s starting a new job as the media relations and mental health program manager for her local police department.

“If you truly want to be a public servant and make a positive change, an MPA will give you the know-how to lead not just effectively, but ethically and equitably too.”

“Less than one month ago, that position didn’t exist,” she says. “A key component of my role as a civilian at the department will be to support goals set by the department’s leadership to create and launch community-centered emergency mental health support services for the city.”

As for Augustus? She’s already thinking about what comes next.

“A friend recently asked me when I was going to run for office,” she says. “The way my life has been going, I won’t be surprised if that role is somewhere down the road. I didn’t set out to work for the government, but the MPA from UNC certainly gave me the knowledge and desire to lead in the nonprofit sector, in any capacity, at a high level.”

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