Growing up to scientist parents taught Maggie Woods two very important things—not to fear bugs and to always be curious.
Now, the California native puts her curiosity to work every day here at the Institute for Emerging Issues, where she works as a Policy and Program Manager across a spectrum of IEI programs.
Woods, who’s been with IEI since 2015, will be a driving force on ReCONNECT NC, a new three-year initiative that will include six forums throughout the state addressing ways to reconnect North Carolina civically, socially and economically. For the first time ever, IEI will hold forums outside Raleigh, with plans to convene in Asheville. Charlotte and eastern NC, as well as Raleigh.
The first forum, slated for September 2018 in Asheville, will focus on reconnecting to community, a personal passion for Woods, who entered the public policy world through two years of AmeriCorps VISTA service.
“I get to come to work every day and research the field of civic engagement, which is something I care deeply about,” said Woods, who majored in International Studies with a minor in Spanish as an undergrad at California State University, Long Beach, before receiving a master’s degree in Public Policy from Duke University. In college, she traveled and volunteered extensively through Latin America, where the education and poverty issues she worked on mirrored U.S. problems.
“I had always been interested in different cultures, but I wanted to shift my focus and see if I could make a difference with some of those same issues domestically,” Woods said. That decision led Woods to her AmeriCorps VISTA service, where she worked with lower-income high school students in New Hampshire on college access issues. The experience reinforced her desire for a public policy career, which she began at IEI in 2015 as a fellow. In 2016, she moved into her current position where along with ReCONNECT NC work, she manages IEI’s Service Year NC program.
Many of Woods’ duties involve careful research, and the employ of the curiosity she got as a kid growing up in a small town outside Sacramento to a science teacher father and biologist mother. An only child born to older parents, Woods called her family “ a really great trio” that traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad. “I took my first steps in Mexico,” Woods said. Her parents always encouraged Woods’ interests, whether it was singing in a swing choir in high school or becoming a theater star, her childhood dream.
That engagement with the world has been enriching for Woods, and an experience she wants to bring to others through ReCONNECT NC.
Recent figures show that North Carolina’s civic engagement is lower than it’s ever been, and it’s holding back our state. North Carolinians are losing ties to the communities they live in, to the jobs they work, and to their neighbors and acquaintances. This state of disconnection has real and measurable social, health and economic consequences. And the long-term negative impact isn’t hurting just us as individuals, it’s affecting the economy as a whole.
IEI is hopeful that holding forums across the state will create even more dialogue around the topic.
“We’re getting closer to people by bringing these forums to the rest of the state, it forces us to engage with people better,” said Woods, whose hopes to create conversation around topics like the rise of civic “deserts,” the decline of volunteerism, and the role technology can play in both helping and hindering our connection.
When she’s not working, Woods likes to “engage” in jogging, gardening—Black-eyed Susans are a favorite—and hanging out with cat Yuri and her husband Humberto Rodriguez, a project manager at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Interesting side note: Humberto is also a native Californian, though he and Woods met on the East Coast, while they both served as AmeriCorps VISTA members in New Hampshire.
Stay tuned to find out the latest news on what Woods and the rest of the IEI team are working on with ReCONNECT NC at reconnectnc.org.