Natalie McKinney (BA 2016 in Sociology, History Minor)

Public Information Officer at NC Judicial Branch (Trial Court Administrator’s Office- District 26) in Charlotte, NC

Tell us about your current job role/employer and what you’re currently working on.

I work within the North Carolina Judicial Branch and my role is situated in Mecklenburg County. I am the Public Information Officer for the Trial Court Administrator’s Office in District 26. In my role as PIO, I am responsible for emergency communications and disseminating information to the general public. I also interface with local outlets of the media. In my role as PIO, I also operate as a team lead in our office; I have the privilege of leading our Community Access and Outreach Division. As the communications unit of our office, I often conceptualize my role as performing two imperative tasks:

Brand Direction: how can we showcase what the Courts actually do in such a way that will, in turn, produce more confidence and trust in the Courts?

Brand Protection: what policies need to be upheld/followed when interfacing with the media and the general public?

Having a good grasp of our Judicial Branch policies and local rules is key to ensuring that I am attending to matters via a centralized lens and viewpoint. I am currently working on a communications plan.

What personal and/or career experiences did you have prior to landing your current job and leading to where you are now?

In my Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) program, I was required to complete an internship. My internship advisor impressed upon my cohort and I the importance of having an internship with broad experience within the public administration field. He mentioned that our internships shouldn’t be pigeonholed into what our academic concentrations. I knew that one of the best places that I could be was the City of Charlotte. At that time, there weren’t many graduate-level internship opportunities; but, through a chance encounter, the person who eventually became my supervisor arranged for me to serve as an intern that summer. From there, I was enthralled with public service and I began to think of my internship as not only an experience, but a path to a career. My internship with the City of Charlotte was extended twice and it eventually led to a full-time role! Although I’ve moved from municipal government to State government, I am still excited to serve my fellow man!

What was the most challenging aspect of your first “real world job” and what did you learn from it?

I didn’t face as many difficulties in my first role out of college. I was working part-time at a museum – hello there, history minor 🙂 – while I finished grad school. I will say with my second role, however, the most challenging aspect was learning not to doubt myself. My leaders knew what I could do and produce. But, I needed to be assured of my capabilities. At times, I would second guess myself. Overtime, I learned that shrinking back wouldn’t stop the “show”; it would only delay my own growth. I learned to harness everything in me and press forward anyway.

What advice would you give to new Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college?

Your vacation and sick days are part of your benefits package for a reason! Take them. Do good work. Be present at work. But, do not forget to look out for yourself. It is more than okay to step away from the “noise” of the office and take a few days off every now and then! There is no trophy for most vacation days unused! You will earn the time, so be sure to use the time. Also, if your employer provides access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), use it as well. Often, those resources are free and you can use most anonymously. Things like counseling, health management, nutrition programs etc. are traditionally encompassed in an EAP. Help just may be a phone call away!

How have you made personal and professional relationships in your city, company, or community?

As cliché as it sounds, I have made professional relationships just by asking questions! Being intrigued by my colleagues and their journeys over the life-course of their career. For example, I asked how I could be part of a professional development group for an organization that I am part of. The chair of that subcommittee sent a warm welcome and guess what? I am in. Asking questions may seem like a passive strategy because it doesn’t seem aggressive enough, but I have found it to be the gateway of wisdom!

Have you been mentored by anyone at Wake Forest or in your professional life? If so, what impact has that relationship had on you?

Yes! I was blessed to be mentored by Dr. Alta Mauro (who previously worked in OMA) and Rev. K. Monet. While journeying through undergrad at Wake, Dr. Mauro and Rev. K Monet held space for me many times. As a woman of color in the workplace, the things I witnessed them accomplish felt empowering to me, then and even now. I still recall conversations I had with each of them. Gleaning from them was a pivotal role in undergrad and I am thankful to have had them.

What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are about to start their first professional job?

Be teachable. No matter how far you go in the C-Suite or how many degrees you acquire, always be teachable. You can still learn things and take on new perspectives if you are open to do doing so. Imagine you are a sponge. While sponges can be used for cleaning, their primary purpose is absorption. When you walk into positions with that mindset, I believe it broadens your horizon and it will allow you to glean from everyone.

Be dependable. Be someone people can bet the house on. You may never know the impact you leave on your team or supervisor just by being dependable. Yes, your degree and ability matter too, but it’s always nice to have dependable co-laborers! That never goes out of style.

Don’t be afraid to change your language. Instead of saying “Oh, I’m the (insert job title)”, try saying: “I serve as the (insert job title)”. Why? Because the way we frame things matter. Even if you are in a role that you don’t particularly enjoy, “serving” in that role will help breed a feeling of purpose while you’re still there and, it will encourage you to keep doing your level best until the next career door opens.

What are your future career goals or plans? How are you being intentional about working towards them?

I don’t know what all I’d like to do outside of government just yet. At one point, I entertained being a City Manager or another sort of ranking administrator. So we’ll see what all the future holds. Until then, I intend to keep learning and operating right where I am!

Story published in August 2022. For current updates about Natalie, visit her LinkedIn page.