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Carolina MPA Alumna and Students Connect to Bring Research to a National Stage


In May of this year, four Carolina MPA students presented their research at a national conference hosted by Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL), a national organization founded by Carolina MPA alumni Kirsten and Kent Wyatt. The students’ presentation was a unique example of exciting research being done in the classroom and being presented on a larger stage, due in part to a strong relationship between the program and alumni.

Kirsten Wyatt ’02 shared some of her thoughts about how these students both excelled in their presentation and set the example for similar research in other states to support ELGL’s Diversity Dashboard.

Q: Why did you choose Detroit for the ELGL Conference this year?
A: For the previous four years, we’ve always had our conference in Portland, which is where ELGL is based, and we started the organization while living out here. But as we grew and truly became a nationwide organization, we realized that moving the conference around the country was important to make sure that we were able to reach all of our members. What we also realized is that celebrating cities and celebrating local government is core to what we do. And so picking a city based on its character was our top priority. We looked for a city with story and Detroit’s story is something that is so important and so memorable. Especially as we head into this century as cities start to look at how to adjust and adapt and become 21st century cities, we knew we would get a lot of great stories and lessons out of Detroit.

Q: Why did you invite Carolina MPA students to present?
A: Each year, student teams want projects from real world partners to work on. So ELGL submitted a project proposal and four students selected the ELGL project for their semester-long work experience.  The project is called the Diversity Dashboard and it’s our effort to collect real data across all forms of local government on the race and gender of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and the Assistant Chief Administrator Officer. We submitted this project idea to the students and it had a component related to data collection, manipulation, and management; but it also had a component related to research and background and perspective. So we were really pleased the students picked our project and we had four students who back in January signed on and starting leading with ELGL to put this project together.

Over the course of the semester, to say that I was impressed would be an understatement. These students knocked this project out of the park. Not only did they immediately grasp the importance in the local government community of gathering this data, but they approached it with such strong understanding of data analysis and keeping the integrity of the data and that the process could be something that could be replicated throughout the entire nation. On top of that, they were just completely poised, they were so polished, and they were so passionate about their work. Not only did they have a great story to tell, but they told it really well. They had a final product that is something anyone in the country could pick up and use similar data in their states.

Q: How was their presentation received at the conference?
A: They walked in there and just nailed it. You would think they were sitting in the School of Government, presenting to their cohort. They absolutely walked onto the stage and presented with such poise that could have easily not been there, but demonstrated the caliber of students that the [Carolina] MPA program is attracting.

Q: How does your Carolina MPA inform your work at ELGL?
A: At the start, I think the cohort approach of the MPA program was a huge driving factor in Kent and I deciding to start an organization where people freely shared information and ideas about local government service. For us, really understanding the power of a close network helped us when we were working in local government. It helped us be better at our jobs, it helped us get information faster, it helped us cut through bureaucracy, and it helped us with information sharing.

We realized we have this great network made possible through our MPA cohort, and so we started thinking when we moved to Oregon, “How do we build a similar network where people feel that support, that camaraderie, and that information sharing?” I feel like that at every step of the way, that principle of building a network of people that you can depend on has really driven what we’ve tried to create in every state that we’re in for ELGL. I think too, Kent and I were both bit with the local government bug, we were really passionate and really excited about the work that happens at the local level and I think that was really fostered by the School of Government. For us, it’s about building that strong network, and always having really good resources, information, and training available to our network. I think we can tie that directly back to everything we learned in the School of Government in the MPA program.


UNC MPA alumni and other local government leaders interested in the students’ research can see the students present again at the #ELGLPopup in Charlotte, NC on September 22. For more information or to register, visit

Additionally, learn more about ELGL’s Diversity Dashboard and Carolina MPA students research at ELGL’s blog: