“She’s low-key but the type of leader that needs to be recognized and applauded in this community.”
UNC Greensboro alumna Jenny Halsey ’08 earned a No. 5 spot on the Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) Top 100 Local Government Influencer list for 2021. Nominated by peers for her work with the Triangle J Council of Governments (TJCOG) Regional Strategy and Innovation Network, Halsey was recognized for her collaborative nature, relentless positivity, and dedication to bettering her community.
Further described by her nominators as hopeful, humble, and creative, they credit her coordinated efforts and kind and friendly demeanor for the smooth and seamless work she does on behalf of the regional Council of Governments.
Tell us about your experience at UNCG.
From a young age, I was interested in interior design and historic preservation. UNCG had the best interior design school in the state, and when we toured campus, I fell in love with it. It was absolutely beautiful with its very old buildings and what feels like a million trees. It just felt good and right.
I earned my BFA in interior architecture with an environment undergraduate minor. Through frequent critiques, the program and professors constantly pushed me to rethink everything. Design work is never done. It involves consistent tweaking or changing, redoing or rethinking something. This gave me a mindset to be comfortable with constant change and pushed me to be flexible, creative, and innovative.
What inspired you to pursue an Environment minor?
For one of my general education credits, I took Religious Traditions and Care for the Earth with Dr. Charlie Headington in the Religious Studies Department. That shifted a lot of things for me. Going to the professor’s house and learning about permaculture, basic sustainability and lifestyle choices influenced me to add a minor in Environmental Studies. The first part of my career in the local government world was sustainability-focused. I only briefly worked in design, and even that was heavily environmental-focused.
Where has your career taken you since graduation?
I moved to Cape Cod and taught outdoor education for one year after graduation before moving to Winston-Salem for an internship with the city’s newly formed Sustainability Department. I had never thought about getting involved in local government work, but I stayed on for two and a half years as program manager in that office. I moved on to the Town of Kernersville as the sustainability specialist and operations manager for the Public Works Department. That’s where I fell in love with local government work and helping people in communities, inspiring me to get my master’s in public administration from UNC Pembroke.
I began working at TJCOG in 2016 and just started in my fourth role there as assistant executive director. I am responsible for management and oversight of all internal functions including human resources, administration, technology, and finance. This includes policy development, managing the organization’s strategic plan, and collaborating with different stakeholders on issues such as transportation, affordable housing, water resources, environmental, and community and economic development.
Why do you think you were nominated for the ELGL award?
As part of the Strategy and Innovation Network, I convene staff from across local governments in the region who are working on strategic initiatives or planning and innovation within their organizations. I provide a space for us to learn from one another, leverage each other’s strengths, and take on joint or regional innovation efforts. We focus on process improvement, human-centered design, design thinking, and prototyping. The government world can become stifling quickly for many different reasons. Bringing these types of skills and practices into the local government helps make things more efficient for communities and the residents we serve. We’re trying to empower people to make changes within a bureaucratic system.
Do you have any advice for current UNCG students in your field?
I didn’t take advantage of building my network as I could have in undergrad, such as developing relationships with professors or professional organizations. I wish I had done more of that.
Students should look at everything as an opportunity. That has helped me in my own career and led me down a nontraditional path. I majored in design, but my minor was what got my career started. And I can’t imagine not doing local government work now, but I think it was because I was open and said yes to alternative opportunities.
And of course, have fun! Some of my favorite local spots were Tate Street Coffee House, New York Pizza, and College Hill Sundries.
Story by AMBCopy, University Communications
Photography courtesy of Jenny Halsey