Alumni

MPA ALUMNI PROFILES

 

Andy Willis

Senior Advisor for Governmental Affairs

Office of the Governor

Raleigh, NC

 

Andy Willis has a passion for public service. “The citizens of North Carolina are the reason I come to work every day,” he said. “Making a difference for them is what drives me; it’s my passion. And the MPA program helped instill that in me.”

Before joining the Governor's Office in 2009, Willis was vice president of government relations for the UNC system. In that role, he acted as liaison between the system president and state government including the NC General Assembly, the governor and local jurisdictions throughout the state. “I truly believe in higher education, in what it does and the energy it creates,” Willis said. “We are fortunate to live in a state that supports higher education.”

After graduating from North Carolina State University in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Willis returned to Pamlico County, where he worked as assistant county manager, wearing many hats. During his tenure there, he attended public finance and management courses at the UNC School of Government. One of the program officials encouraged him to apply to Carolina's MPA program. “It was the best thing I’ve ever done,” Willis said. “It broadened my perspective. I explored some areas of public service that I’d always wanted to explore.”

When he graduated from the MPA program in 1996, Willis intended to go back to work in local government. Instead, he landed a position in fiscal research with the NC General Assembly’s nonpartisan staff. His experience there and in the MPA program led to positions at NC State University, the UNC system, and the Governor's Office.

“I would not be where I am today,” said Willis about the MPA program’s impact on his career. “It taught me to think strategically about complex issues, develop solutions, and communicate those in a way the average person can understand.”

In addition, he credits the team projects with teaching valuable lessons. “There’s a lot of time spent in the program learning to work effectively with others,” he said. “By the 35th team project in the second year, I was tired of it.” But in his career, he has found that the only way to get things done is with other people. “I can look back and see the value of it now. I use it in my career every day.”

Calling the alumni network “truly remarkable,” Willis has enjoyed its benefits as well. “I think I’ve taken advantage of the alumni network more than others,” he said. “I can call anyone whether I know them or not, and I get a call back within 24 hours. We all have the same orientation to help each other. There is a sense of camaraderie that doesn’t exist at other programs.”

He encourages students to tap into it as well. “Any student who doesn’t take advantage of the alumni network is missing out,” he said, though he indicates the program is not for everyone. “If you are looking for a highly technical degree, this is not the program for you,” Willis said, addressing potential applicants. “Carolina's MPA program is a practitioner’s program. Others do a great job of addressing public policy issues, but I don’t see an emphasis on implementation. A policy is only as good as the implementation, and Carolina's program takes policy to the next step ... addressing the problem and communicating the solution.”