UNC MPA student attends NCCCMA annual conference

Written by Cara Robinson

Andrew Stephen Wright is a current first-year student in the UNC MPA program. Born and raised in North Carolina, his tenure at UNC began as an undergraduate student, where he double majored in Peace, War, and Defense and History. After graduating in 2021, he joined the Lead for North Carolina fellowship program and worked in the Ashe County Government planning department for two years. He is interested in local government management. 

Each year, the UNC MPA program sponsors students to participate in conferences—including the North Carolina City and County Management Association (NCCCMA) seminar—and other networking events that support their interests and enhance their learning. 

Andrew Stephen Wright, UNC MPA student

by Andrew Stephen Wright.

The NCCCMA annual winter seminar is always an opportunity to engage with and learn from our state’s vast array of public service professionals. I’ve attended two years in a row, first as a Lead for North Carolina fellow with Ashe County and now as an MPA student at the UNC School of Government, and I can definitely say it’s an almost mandatory event for an aspiring public servant in North Carolina. This year’s seminar offered fresh opportunities to learn about the issues facing our local governments in 2024, with sessions ranging from harnessing AI to provide more equitable and efficient services to strategies for winning competitive federal grant funds.

Two sessions, in particular, stood out to me for how they play into the changing face of local governments across our state. The School of Government’s own Leisha DeHart-Davis gave an in-depth look into the role of emotional labor in the everyday work of public servants, a concept we had just begun to study in her PUBA 723 course at the school. The ability to project calm and manage one’s emotions is, without a doubt, an asset to public service organizations, and this session ended up building off our class discussions on how to manage emotional labor without burning out.

I also had the opportunity to attend a session on organizational resilience, which centered around how local governments can and should adapt to accelerating change in the field. Panelists shared their experiences with organizational and community change, sometimes with simultaneous changes. The experience in Canton, NC, stood out to me most. The town was faced with retooling its long-term vision to account for the impact of COVID-19, widespread storm flooding, and the closure of a packaging plant vital to the local economy, all within two to three years. Bouncing back from these events alone would have been difficult enough, but all simultaneously seemed nearly impossible. It showed me that it takes a particular level of commitment and buy-in from the government and the community not to back down in the face of incredible adversity.

The public learning sessions were not the only high point of the seminar though. Our MPA students had several unique opportunities to engage with public servants from across North Carolina, thanks to the work of the School of Government and NCCCMA in tandem. The alumni breakfast was a chance for past and present students to meet, eat, and, for many of us, job hunt in the context of our shared MPA experience. Every MPA student is looking for a job, and many alumni were there with openings to match. Later that same day, students had the chance to sit down for discussions on how to succeed in local government, including skills and tips on building up competitive resumes and cover letters.

2024 NCCCMA Conference

The NCCCMA seminar is quickly becoming one of my favorite annual events, as it allows me to network and develop knowledge alongside public servants from various backgrounds, work experiences, and locations. At the same time, everything feels rooted in doing the best for North Carolina and its residents, and we can walk away knowing we’re building a toolbox that we can take with us into public service, whether we’re students just starting down the path, or long-time career professionals keeping ahead of the game. Without a doubt, I look forward to the 2025 event and the fresh ideas and opportunities it will bring.

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