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Heather Repenning moved to California from small-town Kentucky with the intention of earning a Ph.D. in comparative literature, but soon began to wonder if it was truly her correct path. She worried that the highly academic language of her work was not accessible to people of all backgrounds.

“About three years into my Ph.D., I started to feel like the work I was doing was maybe not as relevant as I wanted it to be in terms of having an impact on the world,” she explains.

After that realization, Repenning soon found herself doing field research for several political campaigns, one of which was for a young Eric Garcetti. She talked with voters and constituents about the changes they wanted to see in their communities and immediately felt that her work could have a direct effect on people’s lives.

Now, working for Los Angeles County’s public transportation agency and serving as the vice chair of the board of directors for the region’s Metropolitan Water District, Repenning’s work impacts millions of people across Southern California. “I love to help people and I consider it a gift that I can wake up every day and get paid to make the world a better place,” Repenning says. “And right now, the needs are great.”

Between the pandemic, the resulting economic crisis and the devastating wildfires now raging in the West, Repenning sees countless opportunities to address issues that affect people’s everyday lives, such as economic inequality, workplace diversity and climate change.  

Repenning acknowledges that this is a uniquely difficult period and that people need to look out for themselves and their families, but she also urges people to get involved whenever possible.

“Democracy will only be healthy to the degree that everyday people are active and actively participating in it,” she says. “Whether it's speaking out against something that you disagree with, whether it's voting, in whatever way you can, please get into the arena.”

Listen to the episode with Heather Repenning to hear more about working closely with Eric Garcetti for 20 years, the timely values of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and learning about the world through the availability of water.

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