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OCED Alumni: Where Are They Now?


 Jenna Chilingerian


Periodically, we'll feature a former member of Team OCED, to learn about their impressive accomplishments, and the ways they've branched out into the communities in the San Joaquin Valley. This month, we are reconnecting with Jenna Chilingerian, who was part of Team OCED from 2014 until early 2017, and was recently awarded a fellowship through the Wonderful Public Service Graduate Fellow Program by The Maddy Institute at Fresno State.

1. Tell us about your former role at OCED.

I started at OCED as a Program Assistant in July 2014, primarily working on projects within the Community and Regional Planning Center and San Joaquin Valley Rural Development Center throughout my time. I coordinated planning and sustainable communities programs and activities in the areas of housing, sustainable planning, parks and recreation, and transportation. I also organized a number of regional capacity building trainings, workshops, and summits, bringing together over 1,000 partners and stakeholders from across the region and state. I summarize my work as bringing resources and people together to problem solve through place-based programming, capacity building, and technical assistance.

2. How did your time at OCED prepare you for what came after OCED?

OCED was my first re-introduction to Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley. I graduated from UCLA in 2013 and headed east to Cleveland and later Washington, D.C. for my first jobs, post-college. By May 2014, I felt Fresno calling me back and started outreach to a few organizations. Luckily I connected with OCED just as they were opening their hiring process and everything fell into place. In the nearly three years I worked at OCED, I moved from Program Assistant to Coordinator, and eventually Manager. These transitions came with greater responsibilities and heavier project loads, but ultimately they brought significant exposure to Valley communities, issue areas, and solutions. My time at OCED also jump started my professional development and career – I gained experience in project development and management, public speaking, team building, and problem solving. Through my work, I was able to join the Boards of Directors for the American Planning Association – Central California Chapter and the Lowell Community Development Corporation, two boards that I'm fortunate to have been involved with for 2+ years. Most of all, I formed wonderful friendships with folks who really care about the work they do and the impact they have the potential to create. I carry these lessons and experiences with me every day as I progress in my career.

3. What led you to apply to the 2018 Wonderful Public Service Graduate Fellowship?

I first considered graduate school in early 2014, but quickly realized that I did not know what I was looking for in an experience or program. I decided that starting my career would be a good first step to help me narrow down my interests. By the time that I applied for graduate school and the fellowship in early 2018, I could adequately and truthfully answer the who, what, when, where, and why of my life and career so far, and how my experiences translate into this opportunity for higher education and enrichment. At the heart of all of this are the San Joaquin Valley and my drive to change the narrative of my home community and region. Through this process, I've learned that I'm not necessarily a goal setter; rather, I set "paths" and do everything in my ability to be fully ready to accept an opportunity when it arises. In this case, my path is graduate school and continuing to work for and in the Valley, and the Wonderful Public Service Graduate Fellowship perfectly aligned. I'm fortunate for the generosity of The Wonderful Company and The Maddy Institute in helping me along this path, and am grateful to have been selected.

4. What are you looking forward to the most about the fellowship program?

Honestly, I'm looking forward to leaving the San Joaquin Valley again, but this time knowing that I'll be back in two short years. I'm ready to experience a new city and region, and come back with fresh perspective. With the fellowship, I have a clear vision and path and feel relieved to know that there's a support network back in the Valley rooting for me. I'm also looking forward to completing the internship requirement and gaining temporary experience at an organization that I might not otherwise have the opportunity for which to work. Lastly, I look forward to joining a great group of Valley-minded folks who have received the fellowship before me and those to come!

5. What are you passionate about any why?

I'm passionate about good food, music, cities, and public spaces. It's my dream to one day turn a vacant and blighted storefront into a well-designed, specialty grocery store/eatery/live music venue – partially paying tribute to my family's grocery store business, and partially playing into my interests while participating firsthand in economic development. Since moving back to Fresno in 2014, I've had the opportunity to use Fresno as my home base for traveling. Through traveling, I've learned so much about cities – what works, what doesn't work – and have developed a keen sense for reimagining places and public spaces. I've found that good food and music are usually precursors to good cities, so everything ties together (in my opinion).

6. Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Thank you, OCED!