alumni Spotlight

November Alumni Spotlight with Nicole Halsey, MPA ‘08


Education, experience, and opportunity are all critical, but the luckiest of us get to have a mentor/mentee relationship or two that help us learn and achieve. In this month’s alumni spotlight, we discuss mentoring, meaningful Marxe MPA memories, and Nicole’s challenges and accomplishments in New York City government.

What role has mentoring played in your career?
I have been really fortunate to have had many wonderful mentors. The first one was my fifth grade teacher; she fostered my love of writing, and her encouragement is a reason that I decided to major in journalism in undergrad at NYU. I began working in city government because of a mentor, as well. I signed up for the National Association of Black Journalists’ mentoring program, and was matched to a reporter at Newsday who encouraged me to get a MPA. While at Baruch, I was hired to be the special assistant to the Commissioner of the NYC Administration for Children’s Services. In city government, I have found a wide network of mentors who continue to challenge and encourage me today. I believe in mentoring because mentors help you see the possibility in yourself. There have been times in my career when I was unsure of my next steps, and the thoughtful guidance and support I received from my mentors helped me to make some strategic career moves. Mentoring is critical for African-American women. African-American women often face a number of barriers, and sometimes a great mentor can make all the difference in whether you are approached about an opportunity, or even considered for one. I actively mentor several young people today because I know that there is potential in everyone, and the right advocate can make that potential apparent to anyone.

Can you recall a particularly meaningful experience from your time at the Marxe School getting your MPA?
I remember sitting in Professor Sullivan’s class the first week of the program realizing that when the class was over, I would be able to use the Federalist Papers in everyday conversations about building coalitions and managing conflict. Professor Sullivan also spent some classes talking deeply about baseball theory; helping me to finally understand some of the plays I saw when I was watching Yankees games. He was really adept at making his metaphors work, somehow, for public affairs. I appreciated the critical nature of the work of his course—it wasn’t enough to memorize some of the global concepts, rather, we were expected to make connections to the world. The Marxe School’s instructors remain memorable to me for their diversity and their teaching styles, but also for their belief in excellence.

What were some of your proudest accomplishments while occupying senior roles in New York City government?
While Director of Community Affairs and Customer Relations at the NYC Human Resources Administration (HRA), I was the liaison to the city’s community boards for the Agency. Shortly after I started, the agency began moving forward with plans to open a new location, and I had to convince Community Board 2 in Hunts Point that opening this new location was a good idea. The first time the Agency presented to the community board, we didn’t receive their support. Over four months, I worked with the developer of the project, and the Agency’s facilities team to show the community board that our agency would be a good neighbor, and that this new office would enhance the delivery of social services to residents of the Bronx. This was a delicate process; Hunts Point is home to a burgeoning artist’s community, and over the years the community’s residents have worked really hard to bring services and resources to the area. I realized that community board members were not opposed to the project; they were opposed to the potential labeling of their neighborhood, which was revitalizing itself, as being in need of social services. With that realization, I worked with the developer to prepare presentations on potential jobs that would be created for community residents, and how increased foot traffic would benefit local businesses. We were even able to show the board members that a state of the art building could drive more investment in Hunts Point overall. Ultimately, we received support for the community board and the center opened. It remains one of my proudest accomplishments as I was able to work as part of a cross collaboration of partners to have a great impact on a community.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as chief of staff?

At the Mayor's Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence my biggest challenge is building on leadership with leaders. I work with a group of smart, dedicated individuals who believe deeply in the work New York City does to support survivors of domestic violence. Leading leaders requires an ability to manage up and laterally, while also being thoughtful, fair, inspiring and authentic. This was definitely a theme of the Marxe MPA in Policy program, and I am happy that I am able to put what I learned to use. I think the single most important thing I have learned in my leadership positions is the notion of allies as the key to the work. When you build networks where you have allies in your work, and in your ideas about how to enhance the work of your organization, you can reach your goals.