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Policy Innovation Leaders of Tomorrow 2021

About the Program

The North Carolina Policy Innovation Leaders of Tomorrow 2021 (PILOT 21) initiative is a multi-campus program to provide undergraduates at nine universities (Duke, NC A&T, NCCU, NC State, UNCA, UNC-CH, Wake Forest, Shaw and UNCW) a chance to identify critical issues facing the state and to learn how to work productively toward change. Through the initiative, these undergraduates will gain experience framing an issue, applying data to policy analysis and working with other undergraduates across the ideological spectrum to achieve consensus. They will use a variety of strategies to bring recommendations to the attention of state and local government elected officials and other policymakers.

ZSR logo
This project has been made possible through the generous support of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

The project is supported by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation on behalf of retiring board of trustees member, Jane Patterson, who participated in a similar project in the 1960’s when she was an undergraduate at UNC-CH. Being part of the effort captivated her interest and launched her into a career of public service.

The Institute for Emerging Issues will lead this initiative, in partnership with Carolina Demography at the Carolina Population Center. Each participating campus will have a team of up to eight students led by a single student who will serve as “student lead,” a faculty member who will advise the team and the initiative as a whole, serving as “faculty lead,” and a dean-level/department chair-level member who will serve on a multi-campus “Dean/Chair Council.”

Being a part of the PILOT 21 program gave me the opportunity to work with a lot of different students with a lot of different perspectives, to come together and cultivate a broad strategy to address food insecurity on our campuses and in our communities.

Ron Dumas

Ron Dumas

UNC Asheville

Meet the Students

Graduation Year: 2023

Major: Political Science with a Public Policy Concentration

Minor: Spanish and Non-Profit Studies

Hometown: Cleveland, OH

Extracurricular activities: I am Legal Director of 180 Degrees Consulting at NC State and a Park Scholar. In my free time I like running, reading, writing, watching movies, and embroidering!

Why did you decide to get involved with the PILOT 21 program? I have a passion for public policy and serving in leadership positions, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to work with other talented and accomplished young people from all over North Carolina. Public policy that is created today will affect our generation’s entire lives, and PILOT 21 allows young people to have an active role in the future of our communities!

What interests you about public policy? Public policy is what connects legislatures to their constituents; it is a testament to the importance of community connection and understanding in politics. Historically, public policy has facilitated and upheld systemic inequality. However, intentional policy has the power to aid in reversing these harmful legacies. Public policy has the potential to improve lives and communities, as well as to positively shape our world in a unique way.

What do you think is the greatest emerging issue facing NC? While there are a multitude of pressing issues facing North Carolina, I believe that the greatest emerging issue is the digital divide. Disparities in access to Internet and technology have put less financially privileged persons at a disadvantage in accessing healthcare or work. School is also requiring more work to be done online, making some children fall behind at greater rates. The pandemic has only increased the scope and severity of this issue, and the effects will surely be seen in the near future.

Graduation Year: 2022

Major: Psychology

Minor: Chemistry and Biology

Hometown: New Hope, PA

Why did you decide to get involved with the PILOT 21 program? The PILOT 21 Program intrigued me because of the opportunity not only to engage in policy-related discussion on my own campus, but with students all around North Carolina. I loved the idea of working with a team to brainstorm creative and data-driven solutions for a policy issue that has real effects on our communities.

What interests you about public policy? Public policy interests me because it the foundation of our society and also the most effective vehicle for change. One of my favorite quotes is by Cultural Anthropologist Margaret Mead, she said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Public Policy has the ability to bring people together and work for the common good; this collaboration can catalyze change.

What do you think is the greatest emerging issue facing NC? Equity in Education

Graduation Year: 2022

Major: Ethics of Social Institutions

Minor: Philosophy

Hometown: Houma, LA

Extracurricular activities: Student Activist, UNCA Philanthropy and Campus Giving, President of the UNCA Rotaract Club, Senator in the Student Government Association, Committee Member of the Buncombe County Steering Committee for 2043 community planning.

Why did you decide to get involved with the PILOT 21 program? I believe that the most pressing issues that face our communities are best dealt with by a coalition of individuals that live in the communities affected. The PILOT 21 program has given my team and I the ability to address food insecurity by organizing dedicated and focused students with different skill sets and backgrounds that are determined to see change in their communities.

What interests you about public policy? I am passionate about being a helping hand in my community; public policy involvement allows me and my peers to take on large structural issues with innovative and conscientious policy initiatives.

What do you think is the greatest emerging issue facing NC? The greatest emerging issue facing North Carolina is the challenge of multi-partisanship and the ability to bring diverse voices and innovative ideas into the discussions that will guide our future. North Carolina is a special case because of a particular political balance in this state, therefore, my team hopes to address emerging issues with compromise-first and community sourced political approaches.

Graduation Year: 2021

Major: Political Science

Hometown: Wilmington, NC

Extracurricular activities: Fencing, Activism, Vice President of UNCW YDSA, Former President of UNCW Young Democrats

Why did you decide to get involved with the PILOT 21 program? My professor asked if anyone was interested in a North Carolina Public Policy project and I thought it was a great opportunity to get hands on public policy experience. When I read more about the initiatives and student-led nature of the program I was thrilled to be picked as student lead.

What interests you about public policy? Public policy is our everyday lives. Bad public policy can devastate areas and ruin lives. Good public policy can bring communities together to help and support everyone. Community oriented public policy that focuses on intersectionality and collective action has the potential to revolutionize the way we care for each other. I want to help people by teaching them to help each other.

What do you think is the greatest emerging issue facing NC? I think the greatest emerging issue in NC is the lack of access to affordable medical care. More than 20% of North Carolinians are in medical debt. That’s over 2.2 million people. NC ranks 6th highest in the country for outstanding medical debt. The burden of medical debt is placing huge financial pressure on many North Carolinians, but the threat of medical debt is almost just as intimidating. 17% of NC adults are in poor health, many financially unable to seek proper medical care they may need.

Graduation Year: 2023

Major: Public Policy

Minor: Creative Writing

Hometown: Durham, NC

Extracurricular Activities: Tennis, Ultimate Frisbee, Theatre

Why did you decide to get involved with the PILOT 21 program? I decided to get involved with the PILOT 21 program because it is a unique and amazing opportunity to collaborate with students across North Carolina and work within the sphere of public policy on issues that I care about.

What interests you about public policy? I am a person committed to social justice and public policy offers a path to create important and impactful positive change within the communities I love.

What do you think is the greatest emerging issue facing NC? I believe that the greatest issues facing North Carolina are the intersecting problems of racism and economic inequality. 

Graduation Year: 2023

Major: Public Policy, Economics

Minor: Political Science

Hometown: Sevierville, TN

Extracurricular activities: Duke University Scholars Program, Duke Impact Investing Group, American Futures Institute (Founder), Duke Cyber Research Group, Duke Bull City Scholars, Analyst at Baylor Group, Analyst at Education Trust TN

Why did you decide to get involved with the PILOT 21 program? I decided to get involved with the PILOT 21 program because I care deeply about community-level policy. Policy and government have immense potential to improve the lives of all individuals, and I believe that the PILOT 21 program will allow me to embrace the public and community service element of government. I grew up in rural east Tennessee, and many of the same challenges facing my community face communities across North Carolina; PILOT 21 will give me the chance to continue to work on the issues I care most about.

What interests you about public policy? I am drawn to the public service element of policy and government. Community service is a key tenet of my life, and policy is a natural extension of my desire to improve the lives of people everywhere, starting at the community level and moving outwards. I enjoy the problem-solving element of policy as well; we constantly face new and emerging challenges, and policy is the set of tools that will allow us to navigate them successfully and provide opportunity for everyone, from every background.

What do you think is the greatest emerging issue facing NC? I believe that the greatest emerging issue facing North Carolina is the challenge of infrastructure, both physical and technological. This challenge is pervasive: both urban and rural communities face different permutations, but the resulting lack of access is the same. Increasingly, technology is critical to access information, engage with education, and access community resources and benefits. Subsequently, physical infrastructure is necessary to distribute resources, like food and housing, to communities. The greatest challenge facing North Carolina is balancing the need for both types of infrastructure and integrating them to achieve more specific policy goals.

Graduation Year: 2022

Major: Social Work

Hometown: Winston-Salem, NC

Extracurricular activities: Resident Advisor on campus

Why did you decide to get involved with the PILOT 21 program? Since I am a social work major, public policy is important because I will be able to improve society and human relationships. I know that I would need be educated on how policy systems work, build organizational strengths, and understand how change happens.

What interests you about public policy? Coming up with different strategies and finding solutions interest me about public policy.

What do you think is the greatest emerging issue facing NC? The greatest emerging issue facing NC is living in a pandemic. So many people have lost their homes and jobs during this time making it difficult for people to provide for themselves and their family.


  • March 2021: Students met virtually for a presentation by Carolina Demography on initial broad policy ideas and decided to focus on the policy issue of food insecurity for work moving forward.
  • November 2021: Student teams met at NC State’s Hunt Library to hear from speakers, determine final recommendations and develop strategies for moving ideas forward.
  • November 2021 – February 2022: Student teams will execute strategies to move ideas forward through writing, conversations, testimony and other means.

This is a great opportunity for students to get hands-on experience learning about how public policy works, how to negotiate to develop consensus, and how to move ideas forward.

Leslie Boney

IEI Director


Sarah Langer Hall, Senior Policy and Program Manager