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Homegrown Politician

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, dean’s-list student like Jenna Wadsworth? The NC State junior is a newly elected district supervisor for the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Wadsworth, a political science/women’s and gender studies major, was the top vote-getter in a three-way race, capturing support from 41 percent or 112,231 voters.

Wadsworth is the youngest elected official currently serving in North Carolina and—as far as she’s been able to determine—the youngest woman elected in the state.

She’s 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.”

portrait of Jenna Wadsworth
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.

Taking a Stand

Wadsworth wants to focus on preserving family farms, like the one she grew up on, and promoting locally grown products as a way of sustaining jobs in the county.

“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.”

She outlined her positions in detail in a pre-election candidate questionnaire for the Triangle-based Independent Weekly.

Although she’s one-third as old as some fellow board members, Wadsworth is confident she is up to the task.

“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 effect change.”

Ready to Serve

Wadsworth credits mentors in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences with helping prepare her for public office, particularly philosophy professor Chris Pierce. She says the coursework has helped hone her communications skills.

“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, organizing 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.

Right now, the supervisor-elect is fielding interviews with media and attending meetings for the conservation board, while preparing for end-of-semester exams.