Leadership in the Public Sector Graduates Forge New Career Paths

wolf statue

The copper wolves at Wolf Plaza near the Free Expression tunnel. Photo by Becky Kirkland.

The Leadership in the Public Sector (LPS) program is an online B.A. degree completion program created to prepare effective leaders in public and nonprofit organizations by giving them the skills to stand out in the workforce. Now, three soon-to-be graduates are sharing their experience in the program and how a LPS degree has helped them reach their unique career goals. 

Juliane Kilcoyne lives in Charlotte with her husband, Gill, and her three sons Patrick, Finnegan and Sullivan. She is the President of the PTA at Hawk Ridge Elementary School and the Director of Operations for a Charlotte real estate agency. She believes an LPS degree will help her continue to advocate for the issues affecting children and the public school system today.

William Johnson is the Fire Captain for Wilson Fire Rescue Services in Wilson, N.C. He is excited to have had the opportunity to attend his dream school, NC State, and earn a degree that will help him progress through the ranks of the fire department.

Jennifer McNeely is a mother of two who enrolled in the LPS program in 2018 to complete her bachelor’s degree from NC State. As she looks ahead to graduation, she thanks the LPS program’s flexible curriculum and supportive faculty for preparing her to pursue a career in law. 

Why did you pursue your degree from NC State Online?

Juliane Kilcoyne: My first attempt at college, over 20  years ago, did not go as planned. It was a struggle for me, and eventually, I moved onto the workplace and began my career as a corporate event planner in New York City. Fast forward to 2017, my husband and I were living in Charlotte and raising our three sons. I mom with kidswas active in the school’s parent association and had taken a leadership role within the organization. The lack of a degree had been haunting me for years, I was always embarrassed. I felt like a hypocrite for talking to my sons about the importance of education without having a degree myself. As I began my search for the right bachelor’s program, I enrolled in Central Piedmont Community College to get my associate degree. My advisor at CPCC was the one that told me about the LPS program at NC State. It was a distance education program from a prominent university and wasn’t a “one size fits all” online offering. The LPS Program was truly for people like myself who wanted to serve their communities and continue their education. Once I learned about the program, I didn’t hesitate to apply!

portrait of manWilliam Johnson: I enrolled at NC State in 2016. I was beyond thrilled to be admitted to the school as attending had been a lifelong dream of mine. When I graduated high school, I was just not prepared for college. I entered the fire academy at Wilson Community College in 2006. I was hired by Wilson Fire/Rescue Services in December 2007. As I decided to work on my career and move up in the department it was obvious that I needed education. I enrolled at Wilson Community College for a transfer degree. In two years I was done and started applying solely to NC State. It took two tries to get in, and I was beyond excited. I even woke my wife up to tell her I got my letter and she thought we had won the lottery. The LPS degree went well with my career track and provided an opportunity to get my Wolfpack degree. At the end of my first year my wife was pregnant, so my time in the student section came to an end. However, when I completed my degree this last July and opened that degree to read my name under that bell tower emblem. It was a true dream come true.

mom with babyJennifer McNeely: I enrolled in the LPS program in 2018 after deciding to return to NC State to complete a bachelor’s degree. At the time of my initial enrollment, I was a mother to a one-year-old, staying home with her during the day and working nights as a bartender at a local restaurant. I knew I wanted to stay home with my daughter but once she was able to start school I would want to start a career in my field of interest, so in the meantime, I thought I would attend classes part-time. I chose the LPS program because it gave me the freedom to do course work and lectures when my unorthodox schedule permitted it, while still being able to take courses within the political science and communications department, which would benefit the pre-law path I was looking to fulfill. When I became pregnant again, I quit my bartender job to pursue my academic career full-time. 

Describe your experience in your program.

Juliane Kilcoyne: I don’t think I realized just how rewarding the program would be or how broad the course offerings were. I was able to study subjects that I applied immediately to my PTA leadership role such as Fundraising, Introduction to NonProfits and Grant Writing. Other classes broadened my perspective on community and leadership such as Terrorism and the Public Response, Diversity in Leadership and Public Leadership. Every professor inspired me to do more, not only in school but in my community. I reevaluated the way I engaged with others, led volunteers and moved an organization in the right direction. I also reexamined my future and how I wanted to apply my newfound knowledge.

William Johnson: My experience was mostly online, though I went to campus every chance I could just because I love that place so much. I did enjoy everything about my experience. The staff was terrific, and I never had trouble getting where I needed to be academically.

Jennifer McNeely: The Leadership in the Public Sector program is a great mix of sociological approaches to administration and ethics that allows its students to understand their own personal methodologies and those of others. I am interested in studying law after graduating, and the LPS program allowed me to take a fair amount of political science and communication courses. Those courses, in addition to the curriculum of the LPS program, allowed me to curate a path specific to my areas of interest.

How did you balance working and completing your degree?

Juliane Kilcoyne: When I first decided I wanted to go to college, we sat down as a family to talk about it. My husband and sons were super supportive and encouraging. We decided together to make the commitment, and I don’t believe I would have been as successful if I didn’t have them in my corner. Every day is a juggling act. I start my days very early so I can work in the quiet before everyone wakes. I use the first few hours of the morning while everyone is still sleeping to manage the real estate company I support and plan the never-ending PTA to-do list and correspondence. Right now, all my sons are working remotely from school, so we are all distance learning! Once their school day begins, so does mine. The flexibility afforded me from the LPS program allows me to be present for my sons and pause my own school work when they need help, support or a snack!

William Johnson: It was tough to balance work and school, especially after my son was born. But, I work 24-hour shifts for the fire department, so I was able to do a lot of work at the station while on shift. There were times I went to campus to take tests and that took a little of my time, but it was manageable. Once I was promoted to captain it became even tougher to get work done. Luckily, I was almost done with my degree by that point.

Jennifer McNeely: As a mom and a student, I had to maintain a strong level of time management and discipline. After spending all day chasing a toddler and tending to the needs of an infant, it is easy to just plop down on the couch and want to put your feet up. There were definitely a few all-nighters fueled by late-night coffee and days ran off only a few hours of sleep, but where there is a will there is a way. I not only wanted to finish my degree, but I also wanted to finish strong with the competitive GPA needed for applying to law school. 

How do you see your degree helping you in your current career, or how has it already impacted your work?

Juliane Kilcoyne: During the course of my studies, I began to apply the theories I was learning right away from developing leader-follower relationships to creating a shared vision for the organization. My role as leader of the PTA is coming to an end soon, as my youngest son will “graduate” from elementary school this June. However, I believe that with my experience and course of study at NC State, I will continue my work within either the nonprofit or public sector. So while I may not be working daily in the school anymore, I will continue to advocate for the issues affecting our children and the public school system. 

William Johnson: Well in monetary value, my degree has already earned me a 5% pay raise at work. I am now eligible to test for two more positions in my department, battalion chief and deputy chief. Besides those facts, the leadership ideas and skills I learned in the program will forever change the way I lead men and women in the fire service. That is a huge difference in me since completing the degree program.

Jennifer McNeely: My LPS degree has allowed me to view how our legal and political system operates on a micro-level. I have seen how the influence of different leadership styles can generate different outcomes within an organization, business, or governmental agency. I have been able to utilize what I have learned thus far within group course work and my personal life in running a household while cultivating the future of my educational paths as well as my children’s. I have been able to become active in leadership and diversity organizations within my daughter’s school, allowing what I have learned within LPS to shape the ways she learns and views the world.

Did you have any faculty members who stood out to you?

Juliane Kilcoyne: I had the privilege of studying under some amazing professors at NC State. I took two courses with Amanda Edwards, and in each class she really pushed me to broaden my perspective on leadership and diversity. Edwards hosted the most interesting interviews with national leaders, asking them poignant questions that gave a real-life application to the theories she was teaching us in class. Another highlight of my time at NC State was taking a leadership class with Frank Perry. Perry’s years of experience in the FBI and law enforcement offered an entirely new perspective on the importance of effective leadership and different types of leadership styles. His lectures were fascinating and his input and feedback were invaluable. LaShica Water’s guidance throughout my time at NC State was invaluable.  She was compassionate, knowledgeable and truly understood the importance of balancing school, work and family life to become successful  

William Johnson: LaShica Waters was terrific! She helped every time I needed her, but she wouldn’t do my work for me. She made me do everything myself while guiding me along the way. She was awesome and I will forever be thankful for her. Daniel Bolger was also a huge influence on me, I took several of his history classes and the amount of information I learned was terrific. I looked forward to every lecture. 

Jennifer McNeely: I would not have been as successful within my degree if it were not for my advisor, LaShica Waters. She was always available day or night to talk when I needed guidance on which courses to take in order to obtain my collegiate goals. I was also lucky enough to take several courses with Amanda Edwards, who became a mentor to me throughout my studies. Her vast knowledge and experience within the public, private, and nonprofit sectors allowed me to tap into her genius when deciding which professional path I wanted to concentrate my studies on while at NC State. I am very thankful and inspired by both of these strong and intelligent women.

What is your advice for other working professionals who are thinking about continuing their education?

Juliane Kilcoyne: Enrolling in LPS is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. If you are thinking about continuing your education, don’t stop, don’t look back, just do it! Yes, it’s a balance when you are managing families, careers and other responsibilities, but it is so worth it! The challenge makes the degree that much sweeter.

William Johnson: Do it! It is so worth it for working folks. Make sure you take the time to give the classes the time they deserve. It’s a very rewarding degree and the amount of leadership lessons I learned is huge. It has helped in my career in ways I could not have imagined. Give the LPS program a chance!

Jennifer McNeely: Now more than ever, anything and almost everything is done online. To working professionals or those running a household full-time, I feel like an online learning platform allows you to tailor your education to fit a schedule that benefits your lifestyle. Very few people fit into the traditional college-aged lifestyle of the past. As adult learners are wanting to better themselves through obtaining higher degrees, why not utilize a program that was designed just for that?

Congratulations to all of our NC State Online graduates!

Are you interested in advancing your career with a degree from NC State Online? Visit the program pages and online.ncsu.edu for a full list of degree and certificate programs.