A cornerstone of the UNC Master of Public Administration curriculum is the Professional Work Experience (PWE), which provides students the opportunity to practice applying skills, knowledge, and theory through a relevant public service work experience. More than an internship, the PWE is an opportunity for students to gain experience and skills for leadership. 

“I have heard countless times that some things are best learned through experience, and I found that to be true. My internship gave me the opportunity to see firsthand the situations I had spent the past year learning about, which gave me a greater understanding of what it means to translate theory into practice.”

– Molly Gaskin MPA ’19

An approved PWE will consist of 300-400 hours of work with a public service organization. On-campus will typically complete their PWE during the summer following their first year in the program. Online students have the opportunity to complete their PWE once they’ve completed 6 specific core courses. A typical schedule for a full-time PWE consists of 40 hours a week for 10 weeks (400 hours), while a part-time PWE may consist of a flexible schedule extending over 15 weeks (300 hours).

The PWE offers the opportunity to apply classroom learning to a public sector work setting that may align with the unique interests and goals of individual students.

The goal of the PWE is to intentionally apply learning gained in the MPA program to a work experience.

We tell students this:

  • The overarching purpose of the PWE is to experiment, observe, and apply learning within a public sector setting.
  • The PWE gives to the opportunity to refine knowledge, skills, and competencies developed through your MPA coursework.
  • Finally, the PWE gives you the opportunity to intentionally reflect on how you learning applies to practice and take that forward to future courses and work experiences.

Waivers are considered after completion of the prerequisite coursework. All students, regardless of waiver status, will be required to complete PUBA 747, the Applied Research Problem I course.

Previous PWE Experiences

Local Government

– City of Savannah, Georgia (Manager’s Office)
– City of San Diego, California (Fire and Rescue Department)
– Cumberland County, North Carolina (Emergency Management)
– Davie County, North Carolina (Health Department)
– Durham County, North Carolina (Budget Office)

State/Federal Government

– NC Department of Health and Human Services
– NC Board of Science and Technology
– NC Child Fatality Task Force
– NC Division of Environmental Quality
– NC Division of Emergency Management
– NC Division on Aging


– American Red Cross
– Child Care Services Association
– Boys Hope/Girls Hope
– American Museum of Natural History
– Council for Community and Economic Research
– Duke University
– Office of the Provost

Professional Work Experience