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Fellowship program matches college graduates with local governments

Photo Courtesy of Dylan Russell.

Lead for North Carolina, a program that aims to match recent college graduates with fellowships in rural and “economically distressed” communities in the state according to its website, will open the application for its sixth cohort of fellows this spring.

The program, which began in 2019, is backed by the School of Government and recruits recent college graduates to public service fellowships in tier one communities that are typically rural and have small economies.

“It connects them to recent college graduates and gives them the training, research skills and expertise provided by the UNC School of Government to go in, tackle community issues, and to strengthen local government and create the next bench of public service leaders across the state,” saidDylan Russell, the executive director of LFNC.

College graduates who are accepted are placed in the three-week long LFNC Summer Academy, which takes place on UNC's campus. Rebecca Badgett, the LFNC director of fellow training and support, said that during the training fellows receive an "in-depth introduction" to the functions of local government with professors from the government school at the University.

The topics covered in training include local government finance, economic development and land use planning and zoning. Badgett said participants in the program also complete “matching interviews” before they are placed with a local government. Throughout the program, fellows also participate in organizing community events and disaster relief management

"There is a real lack of qualified finance professionals in city and county finance departments,” Badgett said. “So this year, we took about half of our fellows and put them on what we called finance track, and then they were dedicated to financials when they went to local governments.”

Since its inception, LFNC has placed more than 100 recent college graduates with nearly 90 different public service organizations in the state, according to the program’s website. LFNC fellows have helped to secure over $90 million in grants that advance key community initiatives across the state, Russell said.

Hannah Elkins, a UNC and LFNC alumna who is now a grant administrator for Hyde County, North Carolina, said the program helped her find a career path that aligned with her desire to work in public service. 

“The values of the program, ‘To start where you live,’ really spoke to me and led me to where I am now,” Elkins said.

Russell said he has seen a decline in public service professionals working in local communities, which he attributes to a “narrative” that there is not a pipeline for graduates to return to their hometowns after college.

“There is a critical need to identify new talent to serve communities across the state,” Russell said.

Suzy Brito Lagunas, a UNC alumna and current LFNC fellow, said that after graduating last spring she wanted to take a gap year focused on public service before going to law school. After being accepted into the program, she saw that her home county, Lee County, was on the list of local governments participating in the fellowship and chose to return.

“Being able to have the opportunity to go and serve with people that I grew up seeing as leaders in the community, I was excited to partake in that,” Brito Lagunas said.

@dailytarheel |

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