Sarah Langer Hall’s nickname around the Institute for Emerging Issues’ offices is “Speedy,” because when you see her, she’s usually darting around at a frenetic pace attempting to accomplish around 10 tasks at once—typically, she completes about 11.
Because working hard’s nothing new for Hall, who lifted herself from a working class background in upstate New York through hard work, tenacity and grit.
“I always felt like I had to work harder to prove myself,” said Hall, who grew up with a twin sister and two younger brothers in Orchard Park, N.Y., just outside Buffalo.
Both her parents worked in retail, and while the family never wanted for necessities, Hall understood early that her family lived differently from her classmates in the upper-class community in which her father had inherited a modest home.
Neither of her parents went to a four-year college and daily Hall faced issues of class differences; Looking back, these early experiences helped shape her eventual interest in policy and social change.
Along the way, she relied on resourcefulness and a natural extroversion as she navigated undergraduate studies at SUNY Cortland where she majored in health science and then the University at Albany where she received a master’s degree in public health. Initial dreams of being an epidemiologist then morphed into a pursuit of public policy work after taking a class on the HIV epidemic, which examined not only the physical effects of the disease but society’s approach to it.
“I learned that through policy you can help populations at a time,” Hall said.
After graduation, Hall followed a friend to Raleigh looking for warmer weather. Soon, she received two job offers and landed at the N.C. DHHS, where she worked as an HIV/ AIDS prevention care program monitor, before moving on to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, where she worked in adolescent sexual health.
In 2010, she found her way to IEI, when she began working as a health policy manager. In her eight years at IEI, her work has shifted to that of a policy generalist as she has watched the Institute change directors and change direction.
Hall is the lead on our upcoming ReCONNECT Rural and Urban forum, the second in our ReCONNECT NC series, which will include six forums over the course of three years held throughout the state, each examining a different aspect of social, civic and economic reconnection.
The multi-year model’s new for IEI, which typically has examined one topic annually, with one Raleigh forum held each year in February.
“It’s giving us a greater reach,” Hall said of the ReCONNECT NC series model, which includes forums in Asheville, Greenville and Charlotte, as well as Raleigh.
Hall also likes another new detail of this forum model: The five communities chosen for each forum to tell their personal, real world stories of how they are working on, and succeeding at, the forum topic being discussed.
Hall’s quick to point out that the ReCONNECT Rural and Urban forum won’t be specifically about rural economic development or investment in urban areas, but will look at regional collaboration more broadly. “It’s not a zero-sum game,” Hall said. “We’re going to be going against the grain with this forum,” Hall said. “Everybody’s talking about the rural-urban divide, we’re going to be talking about the connection.”
When she’s not ReCONNECTing at work, you can catch Hall in her spare time connecting to nature through working out or doing yard work, two favorite hobbies. A mom to son Luka, 16 months, she’s expecting again, a girl, with husband Brandon.