The David N. Ammons Scholarship Endowment Fund

David Ammons Scholarship Fund

This story was featured in the Summer 2021 issue of IMPACT, a publication of the UNC MPA program at the School of Government. Click here for all previous issues.

When Josh Edwards ’05 enrolled at Wake Forest University as an undergraduate student in 2000, he thought he was destined for law school. While completing the required reading for his state government course, however, a name in his textbook changed everything.

“My state government textbook included a chapter about local government that the professor spent little time covering, but it caught my interest,” Edwards said. “As I read through it and followed up on the footnotes, I noted the lion’s share were attributed to a David N. Ammons. I spent time learning about Dr. David Ammons and his countless articles on local government performance management, and it brought to light a career I had never been aware of. When I applied to UNC, it was top of my list because of him.”

Edwards is joined by a long list of alumni whose UNC MPA experiences were defined by Ammons’s work, teaching, and mentorship. Having arrived at the School of Government from the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government in 1996, Ammons taught countless courses to North Carolina local government practitioners and UNC MPA students alike. Within the MPA program, his resume includes courses like City and County Management and Productivity Improvement in Local Government. In 2001, Ammons was appointed MPA director, a position he served in until 2006. His career is defined by his incomparable body of work in the field of local government performance management, for which he is renowned not just across the nation but also around the world.

When Ammons was recruited by the School of Government 21 years ago, he hoped he would find a strong student body and state and local government practitioners eager to learn more about performance measurement.

“Everything reached my hopes and expectations,” Ammons remarked. “So many features of the Carolina MPA program set it apart from others. Because of our location in a School that does so much work with local governments and state agencies, a student in this MPA program has professors who know the work of governments and the challenges they face better than professors in most other programs. Their insights and connections are very beneficial to our students. It’s been a privilege to be a professor and MPA director here, and to have had the opportunity to work with a group of wonderful colleagues and an amazing collection of students and alumni.”

After 21 years of service, Ammons began a phased retirement in 2017, stepping away from the lectern in the Knapp-Sanders building. Despite his absence from the classroom, Ammons’s impact continues to reverberate strongly as ever.

When Pat Madej ‘16 enrolled in the MPA program in 2014, he received the opportunity to work as Ammons’s research assistant. As it was for Edwards, the experience was integral to Madej’s introduction to local government and his development as a public leader.

“Working with David provided me with a great deal of opportunity—in my two years of working with him, I was able to conduct practical research that aided me in my search for a job. I even had the chance to attend a national conference with him as co-author of a published academic paper,” Madej said.

“As a first-generation college student who was new to the world of graduate school and public administration, David’s mentorship and guidance truly helped me spring into my career as a public servant equipped with the skills and experiences I needed,” Madej added.

While Madej learned a great deal about research and data from his time as Ammons’s research assistant, he also gained invaluable knowledge on how to be a strong leader—lessons he uses daily in his position as senior budget and management analyst for the City of Durham.

“The thing is, David didn’t need me to help him as his RA—it was out of what I believe is his passion for building up those around him that he let me stay on, work with him, and get my name in as a co-author on one of his papers,” Madej said. “That really meant a lot to me, and whether I’m training new budget analysts who join our team or mentoring an intern, I also do what I can to ‘pay it forward,’ and build people up so they can grow, too.”

Currently serving as assistant manager of Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, Edwards also continues to feel the impact of lessons learned from Ammons.

“As I have helped build offices focused on strategy and data, and worked to incorporate both into organizational cultures, I have often revisited his books and remembered him during tough moments when progress is slower than I hoped,” Edwards said. “Every time I have switched jobs, I have talked with David before transitioning and asked him for advice. I am thankful that my opportunity to learn from David started at UNC, but it didn’t end there. He was one of my first and best examples of what public service commitment truly means. David’s legacy is not only the many performance measurement systems set up across the world, but the hard work so many of his students do in the trenches every day, improving their communities thanks to him.”

“While David is an internationally recognized scholar on performance management, I would venture to say that it is almost impossible to measure his impact—though if anyone could do it, it would be David,” added Willow Jacobson, incoming UNC MPA director Robert W. Bradshaw Jr. Distinguished Professor of Public Administration and Government. “So many of us have benefited from David’s tutelage, mentorship, and friendship. For me, I know that David has made me a better scholar, teacher, and through his modeling of mentorship, I hope, a better mentor.”

In November 2019, the David N. Ammons Scholarship Endowment was created, with fundraising efforts beginning in 2020. The scholarship will support at least one student enrolled in UNC-Chapel Hill’s MPA program, with preference given to a student who intends to pursue a career in local government.

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