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Retiring From ‘Dream Job,’ Boney Eyes Future

After reimagining the Emerging Issues Forum and leading NC State's outreach and engagement efforts, Leslie Boney contemplates a retirement crowded with possibilities.

Boney on stage with Sesame Street character Elmo.
Leslie Boney, right, with Elmo at the Reconnect to Community forum in November 2018.

For the first time in his professional career, Leslie Boney doesn’t know what’s next.

Boney, who has served as the director of the Institute for Emerging Issues and vice provost for outreach and engagement for the last five years, announced his retirement in February, with an effective date of May 1 from in his dual-appointment positions. He’s spent the last two months finishing up some loose ends and was feted by friends and colleagues, but he’s ready to embark on the next phase of his life.

“I’ve always had a pretty good sense of when I have gotten to a point with a job where I’ve done what I can do,” Boney says. “Typically, it is because the organization or the project that I’m working on is at a stage of stability where I can imagine somebody else coming in and reinventing it or taking it to the next level.

“And that’s where I think we are with IEI.”

Boney accomplished a significant reimagining of IEI’s biggest annual event, taking the Emerging Issues Forum on the road as part of a three-year traveling project called Reconnect NC, which visited Asheville and Charlotte before COVID-19 travel protocols made the other planned sessions in Raleigh and Greenville virtual. The always-lively forum, which began as a request from Chancellor Bruce Poulton to Gov. James B. Hunt, celebrated its 35th anniversary during the Reconnect events.

Boney, left, with Roberto Gallardo at the Reconnect to Technological Opportunity forum in February 2020.
Boney, left, with Roberto Gallardo at the Reconnect to Technological Opportunity forum in February 2020.

“I think we did some good things, and my tendency is always to be aware of the things that I could have done that I didn’t pull off,” he says. “The past few weeks have been a chance to reflect on some of the good things that happened.”

In his other role, Boney also established a new Engagement Operations Council to highlight and assist those whose research and focus is away from NC State’s main campus, created the Rural Works internship program, and supported the development of the NC State Civic Action Plan and the Wake Community-University Partnership.

“I think both (IEI and O&E) of those efforts are at a point where they’re financially stable. They have good programming going on,” Boney says. “What they’re waiting for is the next person with a new kind of creativity to face the next set of challenges.

“What’s different for me this time is that in the past I’ve always known what the next thing is when I left the last thing.”

Doing It Right

Boney grew up in Wilmington as part of a three-generation NC State family but chose to pursue his education at Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he received degrees in English and psychology. His first job out of college was teaching high school English in Maine. He spent time as the Tar Heel Traveler on a local Raleigh television station, then embarked on a service career in government agencies and academic entities.

Boney at the Reconnect Rural and Urban forum in February 2019.
Boney at the Reconnect Rural and Urban forum in February 2019.

“This has been my dream job, my dream place to work,” Boney says. “My grandfather was the Class of 1903, my father the Class of 1940. We’ve had nine other family members who attended NC State. In terms of a destination for the last part of my career, NC state was that place and it was always the place I felt came closest to doing it right when it came to community and economic development.

“It’s been just so satisfying to be able to hang out with students here and faculty here and staff here and learn from them and be in a place that I think gets it and cares about the things that I did.”

It was a five-year assignment that drew praise from Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Warwick Arden.

“Leslie’s unique ability to establish strong relationships with people and organizations across the state has been critical to IEI’s and Outreach and Engagement’s success over the past five years,” Arden says. “He’ll be sorely missed, but he has set a strong example for those who will follow in his footsteps.”

Arden will begin a search for Boney’s replacement in May.

Engaging Rural Communities

Boney takes pride in the accomplishments he and his staff completed during his tenure. He has taken notice of other initiatives that have big impacts on rural communities, such as the College of Education’s Northeast Leadership Academy to train middle and high school administrators, the College of Design’s flood recovery work in the eastern North Carolina town of Princeville and the College of Humanities and Social Science’s Wake Community-University Partnership, led by O&E Interim Vice Provost Kwesi Brookins.

The stay-at-home pandemic exposed the critical need for statewide broadband access and affordable internet and computer service in every part of North Carolina’s 100 counties, a topic discussed during the ReConnect NC events that has become a central programmatic focus for IEI.

As for his next venture? Boney and his wife Ret are planning to spend the next six months pondering the possibilities, keeping a promise they made to each other years ago.

“I think we will together figure out something we can work on, but we’ve never been free at the same time” he says. “We have promised each other that we will make this next move together, so we want to spend this next period tossing around ideas and trying to figure out what resonates for both of us.”

Ideas are still emerging.