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About Us

Lead for North Carolina (LFNC) aims to recruit, train, and place the state’s most promising young leaders in two-year paid fellowships in local governments. The aim is to strengthen our public institutions, support our local communities, and cultivate a new generation of public service leaders.

Local governments are being asked to address increasingly complex issues with few resources. They are struggling to prepare for a large percentage of impending staff retirements and lack of a talent pool that reflects the diversity of their communities.

At the same time, young people don’t have many opportunities to learn about local government and the many career options it represents. North Carolina’s local governments need—and are calling for—renewed leadership now more than ever.

Our goal is to place up to forty recent college graduates in two-year local government fellowships across the state. Each fellow will be matched with a community that is facing considerable challenges and where the need for young talent and innovative thinking is significant. LFNC fellows will gain an understanding of and appreciation for local government, be taught to identify and resolve the most pressing community issues, and learn to enact systemic and equity-driven change—all while serving the citizens of North Carolina.

LFNC is a state affiliate of Lead for America, a nonpartisan fellowship program across the United States. Lead for America was launched in 2018, and LFNC is its first state affiliate program. The School of Government has partnered with key organizations, including the NC County Managers Association (NCCCMA), NC League of Municipalities (NCLM), and NC Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) implement LFNC. We are in a pilot phase of this program.


How it Works

  1. Select students. LFA recruits the state’s most outstanding and diverse college students and recent graduates. We are specifically looking for students who have a demonstrated commitment to public service and who wish to return to, or remain in, a community they are already connected to. Recruitment begins junior year and is competitive to that of corporate sector peers. A particular emphasis is placed on reaching low-income and first generation college students, women, people of color, and military veterans. For the 2019 cycle, LFA already has 1600+ registered applicants for just 50 slots.
  2. Select host governments. Local governments apply to host a Fellow. Lead for North Carolina works with local governments that are extremely limited in their financial resources to identify private support. The local government must be able to provide sufficient support and mentorship to the fellow to ensure a successful fellowship.
  3. Train and support Fellows. Selected Fellows undergo a five-week summer training institute before their two-year term begins (one week at DC  with Lead for America and then four weeks at the UNC School of Government. They learn technical skills, undergo character and leadership development, and focus on developing equity-focused innovative solutions. This includes graduate-level coursework and training from leading MPA programs. Fellows receive ongoing training throughout their two years and benefit from mentorship and retreats with other Fellows, as well as workshop trainings through local government associations and universities.
  4. Serve local communities. In the immediate term, fellows provide critical technical assistance to  local governments. Fellows work on projects addressing economic development, community health, disaster relief and resilience, and education. Fellows are also highly encouraged to volunteer and be civically engaged in the community in other ways.
  5. Build a bench of community and civic leaders. In the long run, we produce an alumni force with the talent, conviction, insight, and experience to effect the fundamental changes necessary to realize our vision of a strong community for everyone. Our alumni will continue to work as change agents in government and as community leaders in small business and community-based nonprofits. LFA measures for geographic retention of the Fellows and provides access to career and graduate school opportunities across multiple sectors that are rooted in service and commitment to community.




The goal of LFNC is to design and implement a premiere fellowship program for recent college graduates that:


  1. Generates a pipeline of young talent to local governments across NC, particularly in areas that have historically(or are projected to have) a difficult time attracting and retaining sufficient talent;
  2. Provides a bridge between local governments (specifically in economically depressed communities or communities with special needs) and the School of Government and professional associations;
  3. Affords host local governments the benefit of smart,passionate, committed individuals to help them address both transactional and transformational issues;
  4. Increases the diversity within local governments to better reflect the diversity of the communities they serve;
  5. Creates a pipeline to MPA and other graduate programs in NC; and
  6. Fosters a greater sense of civic responsibility and encourages fellows to leave the fellowship with a deeper appreciation and dedication to their personal communities and our civic institutions.

Through the LFNC program, fellows will gain a new perspective and appreciation of local government, understand the most pressing issues facing our communities, establish relationships with partner universities and organizations, and gain opportunities to engage with a growing alumni network of similarly-minded individuals.




Meet the Team

Team leads up top (Kara, Carl, Joe, Dylan)

Then everyone else [link to  bios/photos from SOG site]


Have the picture grey out when hovering over and list the following titles for individuals. This order is from left to right. Then hyperlink to bio when you click on their picture. For external team members, bio can link to their bio or landing page on their external webpage.


Lead for North Carolina

Kara Millonzi – Faculty Lead, UNC School of Government

Dylan Russell – Executive Director;  Donor Relations/Discovery Officer, UNC School of Government

Joe Nail – CEO, Lead for America

Carl Stenberg – Faculty, UNC School of Government



Local Government Recruitment

Jennifer Cohen – Director of Business and Membership Development Services, NC League of Municipalities

Laurel Edwards – Special Assistant to the Executive Director, NC Association of County Commissioners

Grant Goings – President, NC City and County Management Association, and Manager, City of Wilson

Norma Houston – Faculty, UNC School of Government

Rob Shepherd – Assistant Director of Business and Membership Development Services, NC League of Municipalities


Lead for America

Benya Kraus – Chief Program Officer

Shimul Melwani – Director of People and Culture, Lead for America

Maya Pace – Chief Communications Officer, Lead for America

Reed Shafer-Ray – Chief Operating Officer



Jen Willis – Associate Dean for Advancement, UNC School of Government

Anita Brown-Graham – Faculty, UNC School of Government


Fellow Support and Training

Rebecca Badgett – Local Government Legal Research Associate, UNC School of Government

Alycia Inserra -Program Management Team Lead, Local and State Government Group, UNC School of Government

Tracy Smith-Miles – Deputy Director, Center for Public Leadership and Governance, UNC School of Government

Bill Rivenbark – Faculty, UNC School of Government

Shannon Tufts – Faculty, UNC School of Government   


We are grateful for the investment from private donors, foundations, and corporations to help make Lead for North Carolina a reality in our communities across the state.


Below are the organizations and people who are dedicated to creating the state’s next generation of  future public servant leaders and transforming our local communities.

Founding Partners