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Tiffany Oliva

Job Title: 
Class of 2022

Many people discover their calling through trial and error in college. Tiffany Oliva discovered hers as a child, through seeing health inequity up close, in her family.


Oliva’s mother was diagnosed with a chronic disease when Oliva was still very young. Soon, they lost their home, and for survival Oliva’s family relied on several government-assisted programs, such as SNAP/EBT and food pantries, alongside other public services.


These experiences fueled Oliva’s desire to serve in local government, and to champion the values of a strong local government and what it could do for at-risk communities.


Oliva graduated with a BA in Public Policy from UNC in 2018. She joined the City of Winston Salem, a city that faced some of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country, and was tasked with supporting the development and implementation to address the issue. The pandemic, however, made the need for resources and information even more urgent. Oliva did incredible work: she helped create an English and Spanish resource map, established meal sites at recreational centers and COVID-19 testing sites, and made urban agriculture more accessible to those in need.


In March of 2021, she was asked to serve as the City of Winston-Salem’s ARPA Coordinator. She is currently working with fifteen city departments in developing a robust strategy to address key public health issues, and close gaps, within her community.


“I want to continue my career in local government,” Oliva said, “to help families like mine, who despite their hard work, too often, find themselves in extraordinarily challenging circumstances. I believe in the power of city government to build strong communities where people from all walks of life can thrive.”



An MPA Tailored to Working Professionals


Oliva decided not to go to graduate school right away. She focused on her work and career right after completing her undergraduate education in 2018. She had by then homed in her focus and after talking to our program alumni, in August 2020, she enrolled in the online MPA.


“I think the two years between undergrad and graduate school confirmed my desire to pursue an MPA,” she said, “but also helped me to narrow down on what aspect of public administration I wanted to focus on: local government.”


UNC’s online MPA offers an extensive network and academic advisors to have your questions answered. “I also felt really supported in my decision,” Oliva said, “after speaking with other MPA alumni like Ed Kitchen (the former City Manager of Greensboro) and Regina Hall (Executive Director of the Boston Thurmond Community Network).”



Going online offered Oliva many benefits, too.


“I am so thankful that the UNC School of Government has an online option for the MPA. As a first-generation college student and someone who grew up in a low-income family, I was worried about not being able to work, while I studied, to pay for my graduate studies.”


As Oliva began the program, while also continuing her work with the City of Winston-Salem, she was able to put to practice her newfound knowledge and theories taught in the classroom:


“Public Administration was the right path for me,” she said, “because it provides you with the tools you need to be a public administrator from managing budgets to people, and applying

for grants to innovating on performance management.”



Opportunities Designed for Personal and Professional Growth


“There are a lot of opportunities in local government, and I hope more young people, like myself, will explore local government as a career.”


In her Research and Design course, Oliva recently explored the impact of local government’s race and ethnicity on their respective local government’s public. It’s important to have accurate representation, “especially,” she said, “with the growth of the Hispanic/Latinx community. There have not been many Hispanic/Latinx City or County managers or just in leadership in general. I am looking forward to breaking that mold.”


UNC’s School of Government offers countless opportunities for students to go further and lead in their own way. Oliva has had the opportunity to participate in the NASPAA Batten Global Simulation Competition where she and her teammates had to react to a simulated pandemic and compete against 400 other students from 120 universities and 30 countries. Her team took home first-runners up.


Oliva was also selected for the Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) and Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) prestigious Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) fellowship. Through the fellowship, she partnered with the City of Trenton, Ohio, and worked with the city manager for more hands-on financial experience.


While the School of Government enabled Oliva to pursue these and many other experiences, it also created many opportunities for her from inside the online classroom.


“For example,” she said, “in my Human Resources management course, we are required to participate in a mock interview with an alumna of the program. I think the mock interview serves two purposes: to prepare yourself for the job search, but also to connect you with alumni of the program… my recent interviewer is a City Manager in Maine, and it was so great to hear about her work and share about mine through the mock interview process. I am looking forward to staying connected.”



MPA@UNC: “Just Go for It”


When asked what advice Oliva would give to prospective students, she said,“My advice is to just go for it.”


Oliva’s experience talking to past students is what ultimately helped her decide on UNC for public administration. As far as being online versus in person, she stresses you can truly define how connected you want to be, because the School of Government “really facilitates a strong opportunity for connection in so many different formats.”


 “Being online gives me a great deal of flexibility, access to the same world class faculty, and also allows me to continue to work full-time while building that practical and theoretical framework for my future.”


Oliva will graduate in 2022. Her diverse perspective and dedication to the community are sure to make this world a better place.


“I don’t know what the road has ahead for me in local government,” she said, “but I feel fortunate to have found my calling early in life.”