Phyllis A. Hughes, SPHR

Director, Talent Acquisition and Human Capital Consulting Center

US Government Accountability Office

Washington, DC


Being a graduate of the UNC-Chapel Hill Master of Public Administration (MPA) program has opened doors for Phyllis Hughes. “The program is widely recognized and respected,” she said. “It has helped me tremendously.”

Hughes is director of the Talent Acquisition and Human Capital Consulting Center for the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), a position she has held for six years. Prior to joining the GAO, she held a wide range of public service responsibilities for the US Department of Transportation, the US Army and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). The specialties of her 26-year career at these federal agencies and as a consultant include human resources, organizational development, and management.

As an undergraduate at North Carolina Central University, Hughes had an interest in sociology but was unsure how she would use it after graduation. A professor of political science pointed her toward a concentration in public administration, for which she found more practical applications. While pursuing the bachelor’s degree, she took a work-study position at the NIEHS office of inventory management. It was from this experience that she decided to pursue a graduate-level degree. “I saw how the information was applied and decided to pursue a master’s degree and see where it would take me,” she said.

Although she applied to a number of graduate programs, Hughes had a strong preference for Carolina's program. “UNC had a great reputation, and it was close to home,” she said. “Also, I had friends who attended UNC-Chapel Hill as undergraduates, and I knew they had good experiences.” The decision was easy when she was accepted at Carolina.

“The professors were well grounded in both theory and practical applications,” she said, describing the program attributes that have been most beneficial in her career. “The course work was very transferable.”

Specifically, Hughes has found that the concepts and principles taught in the Administrative Behavior course have helped her navigate the workplace. “It helped me understand why people behave the way they do in a changing environment, how I need to adapt, and how I can help the organization move forward,” she said.

Hughes also values participation in the alumni conferences for keeping up-to-date with the latest trends and for the networking opportunities with program colleagues. “This is a true profession, and I am glad to be a part of it,” she said.

For students in the program and those considering it, Hughes recommends tapping all the program has to offer. “Looking back, I wish I had been more outgoing, more engaging of the staff and program graduates to learn all that I could from them,” she said.

Having entered the program directly from her undergraduate studies, Hughes saw the intense workload as an extension of her education rather than an introduction to her profession. “Practice the networking skills now while you’re in an environment where everyone is there to support you,” she advises students. “This is a chance to build skills that you will need in the work environment. Take full advantage of everything that is offered.”