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20 under 40: Jenny Connolly

20 under 40: Jenny Connolly

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Sixteenth in a series of profiles of this year's 20 under 40 winners.

CEDAR FALLS - Members of the Iowa State Board of Regents are made, not born.

Jenny Connolly may not have been born to be a regent but she was certainly well suited for it.

She's a full-time graduate student at the University of Northern Iowa, served an internship at Wartburg College in Waverly and as a peer instructor for the Academic Learning Center on campus. At age 24, she's also now a seasoned veteran of the Board of Regents, having served on it nearly four years. Only two of the eight other regents have served as long or longer than her.

Oh, and she also works at Fareway.

A social studies major as an undergrad, she's pursuing a graduate degree in post-secondary education and student affairs. Someday, she'd like to get into academic administration. "Right now, I work in admissions and I love that," she said, as well as academic advising. She'll finish her degree in May.

Connolly, a native of Dike, and her husband Scott, originally from Winthrop, want to stay in the area. He teaches in the North Tama school district in Traer.

She underwent a series of interviews with university and regents officials, including then-UNI President Robert Koob and Renee Romano, former UNI vice president for education and student services. "Then Gov. (Tom) Vilsack called me in my dorm room" to let her know of her appointment. "It was pretty cool."

It took about a year to get comfortable in the position, she said.

She's met personalities such as sometimes-controversial Board of Regents President Michael Gartner. "I like him," Connolly said. "He can be a little intimidating at first, and overwhelming, but he's really great. He always does what he feels is best, and you have to admire that. And he's always been great to me."

From her time on the regents, "I think I realize how much Iowans really care about education, which is comforting," she said. "It gets me excited, because my husband and I are both in education, and my mom. Our whole family is big education people. I never realized just how much of an impact the three state schools and special schools have across the state. I don't think we do a real good job of bragging about ourselves."

She's witnessed her share of political squabbles on the regents and taken them in stride. "People are passionate too, and when they're passionate about something you have to respect them," she said. "I'd never been involved in anything like that before. But it makes me want to stay involved," to keep focusing on the higher objectives of promoting the state's post-secondary educational system.

Koob said of Connolly, "Jenny is a wonderful combination of energy and passion, both directed to improvement: Self improvement and making life better for those around her. If you want to confirm her energy, just take a look at all the efforts in which she participated, multiple jobs, residence hall activities, and Board of Regents. If you want to confirm her passion, just spend a few minutes visiting with her. If I have any regrets in my acquaintance with Jenny it is that I did not have more opportunity for regular interaction with her. She was a joy to be around."

Contact Pat Kinney at (319) 291-1484 or Pat.Kinney@wcfcourier.com.

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