Jackie Ashley has spent nearly a decade working on air quality policy for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – a field she first explored as an MPA student.
Even back in 2007, she said, UNC’s program was flexible enough to allow her to pursue an MPA with an environmental focus. Ashley took environmental policy electives alongside core MPA classes and landed an internship with US EPA to complete her Professional Work Experience requirement.
With a new dual degree program on the horizon, Ashley is optimistic that opportunities will continue to expand for MPA students in the environmental field.
Ashley works today with the same EPA office she interned with all those years ago – the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards in Research Triangle Park.
In her career, she uses the skills she began honing as an intern: translating the complex work the EPA performs to reduce air pollution to layman’s terms. For example, she drafts fact sheets and other materials to help explain national air quality regulations and summarizes air-related legislation that is before Congress.
“Much of the EPA’s work is incredibly detail-oriented and requires a great deal of technical and legal expertise,” said Ashley. “So it’s important to help translate that technical language in a way that makes it accessible for many different types of audiences.”
For Ashley, this ability to extract the essential from the technical was refined during her time as an MPA student.
“I learned from the program that how you talk about things affects how people will understand them,” said Ashley. “If you want an audience to pay attention, you have to provide the information that is most relevant to them.”
Every day, Ashley works to make the EPA’s environmental expertise broadly accessible.
“Good communication helps people understand the implications of our work,” Ashley said. “And that, in turn, helps them become partners in the protection of the environment.”
This intersection of environmental science, public policy, and public administration requires an ability to navigate between the fields – a skill the MPA program allowed her to develop.
“I got a great foundation in how government works and how policy is implemented,” said Ashley. She hopes the dual degree program will provide students with the same – or better – opportunities.
“The program truly is what you make it to be,” said Ashley. “Working across the subjects of government and environment should give these dual degree students an opportunity to be well-grounded in environmental policy at the local, state, and federal level.”