Putting Education into Practice

November 12, 2010

Share this story:

Running for public office is not for the faint of heart of any age.

But what if you’re 21 years old, and a full-time, double-major, Dean’s-list student? Meet NC State junior, and newly elected Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor, Jenna Wadsworth.

Not only did Wadsworth – a Political Science / Women’s & Gender Studies double major in NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences – run for public office, she was the top vote-getter in a three-way race for the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation Board. The NC State junior was selected on 41.19% percent (112,231) of all ballots cast.

Wadsworth is the youngest elected official currently serving in North Carolina and – as far as she’s been able to determine – she’s the youngest woman ever elected in North Carolina. Days after the election, Wadsworth was still in a state of shock, but excited to begin work in her new position.

“I am incredibly eager to get to work serving the good folks of Wake County,” she said. “I look forward to doing my part to clean up Falls Lake and Wake County’s other water sources, while working to find ways to conserve such resources and reduce our use of them.”

Wadsworth is both idealistic and practical about what she’s getting into.

“Being in college and being a public servant – neither is an easy task,” she said. “I’m used to a rigorous academic environment, and I have been active in politics since before I could vote.

“You take it on if you’re committed to doing good things as a public servant,” Wadsworth said. “You make time for what’s important to you.”

Wadsworth wants to focus primarily on preserving family farms, like the one she grew up on, and desires to see locally-grown products infused into the local economy as a way of sustaining local jobs in the county.

And, she’s intent on raising public awareness of the board’s role as a resource to both public and private landowners. (Wadsworth outlined her positions in detail in a pre-election candidate questionnaire for the Triangle-based Independent Weekly.)

Although she’s three times younger than some of her fellow board members, Wadsworth is confident she is up to the task of serving on the board.

During her time at NC State, Wadsworth has been active with various environmental groups and participating in grassroots efforts to lobby for bills addressing local environmental issues.

“Young people have a lot to offer,” she said. “We have different ways of thinking, we bring a different perspective, we are passionate and have a lot of energy to affect change.”

Wadsworth credits CHASS with helping to prepare her to take on the rigor of campaigning and the challenges of serving the public.

“I value learning so highly,” she said. “In CHASS, we are encouraged to learn and to explore diverse viewpoints, not just to absorb material.

“My professors have been great about helping me relate what I’m studying to real-world contexts.”

Wadsworth created an independent study in women and gender studies this semester through which she organized her nonpartisan campaign.

“So few women run for public office,” she said. “It wasn’t just my age that could have caused some to dismiss my candidacy.

“[NC State professor of philosophy] Chris Pierce was so helpful and encouraging,” Wadsworth said. “All my professors have been, throughout this process.”

In addition, CHASS has helped sharpen her communication skills.

“It’s essential for those in public office to be effective communicators, writers, and speakers,” Wadsworth said. “You need to be able to relate to people to understand their needs.

“CHASS is great for helping people communicate.”

For now, Supervisor-elect Wadsworth is fielding interviews with a number of local media outlets, and has already begun attending meetings for the conservation board, all while preparing for her end-of-semester exams.

Just another day in the life of a locally responsive, globally engaged NC State student.