An Education in Politics
Keisha Hunley-Jenkins ’05 never thought she would pursue a career in politics. But after the office of Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman called with a job offer, she’s now directing an office in City Hall.
Hunley-Jenkins is the director of external affairs for the mayor, a role in which she connects with the community on a grass-roots level and then helps shape policy to address the community’s needs. “No two days are the same,” she said, adding that the job is more rewarding than any professional experience she’s had in her life.
“I get to see major projects come to life here,” she said. “To be able to come to work every day and actually see the impact of your work and that you’re leaving a legacy here on the community of community improvement, that factor alone is incredibly attractive.”
Just four months into the job, Hunley-Jenkins already was playing a central role in improving Columbus City Schools. Because of less-than-stellar grades on state report cards, a data-scrubbing scandal, and the link between public education and future economic vitality for the city, the school district has become one of the most important issues for Coleman’s administration.
Hunley-Jenkins’ background prepared her for the role, though. Education issues have interested her ever since her undergraduate years at The Ohio State University. Being a teacher in the classroom didn’t appeal to her, but shaping education policy and improving its accessibility did. After exploring what non-teaching opportunities existed in the field, she realized going to the Moritz College of Law would help her achieve her career goals.
“I felt like going to law school would help organize my thoughts in what I wanted to do in a way that people who are in legislative and decision-making roles understand,” she said.
To supplement her J.D., she pursued a master’s degree in education administration through a combined degree program at Ohio State. She went on to earn her Ph.D. in education administration as well.
Having the opportunity to work toward two degrees at once was extremely beneficial, she said, because she could “see the overlap between my studies and how education policy tied directly into case law and statutes.”
Her formal education – in addition to her experience working for a nonprofit education policy organization called KidsOhio.org – prepared her for her role in the mayor’s office.
She is helping to create a new Office of Education focused primarily on kindergarten through 12th grade and also will help hire the director for the department.
During her time as a policy analyst at KidsOhio.org and also as community relations associate at JPMorgan Chase & Co., she established critical connections that are helping in her new political career.
“I’ve formed relationships with district administration and with school board members,” she said. “I have the ability to help make the education director really successful and make those connections necessary to hit the ground running and be able to provide him with some context.”
Born and raised in Columbus, Hunley-Jenkins now has the opportunity to help the community where she grew up and is now raising her own family. She and her husband, Aaron, have two children – a 7-year-old son, Julius, and a 4-year-old daughter, Jiselle.
She said her legal education helps her perform her job at a high level every day.
“My legal training helps me tremendously with communication, both oral and written,” she said. “I’m also able to clearly, concisely, and quickly identify the issues in a given situation, understand the nuances or multiple perspectives, and work logically to come up with an inclusive and effective solution – or at least lay groundwork to do so.”
Posted in: Winter 2014, Alumni Profile