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Class of 2021 Highlight—Dan Hennessey

I "grew up" in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio and then spent almost ten years in Oakland, California, where I really grew up. I have deep affections for both places, but those feelings are very broad as they relate to Cleveland (much more about family and a sense of comfort) or very local as they relate to Oakland (I associate so much of the experiences that shaped me with specific moments, people, and places).

My career has been in transportation planning and traffic engineering, and when I arrived in Austin in 2016, I received a crash course in local conditions and politics. I learned a lot about past bond measures, the entities controlling the ways in which we move around the region, and options for addressing our mobility challenges. As part of both my work and burgeoning interest in the community, I began to learn more about land use, public safety, public service, and the City government. The more I learned, the more I knew I wanted to play a part in helping to shape the City’s future. And the affection I have for Austin seems to me at times to be as much, if not more about helping the City as it is about helping myself.

I have had the wonderful opportunity to lend some of my professional expertise to the City’s Urban Transportation Commission, helping to develop recommendations to City Council regarding the update to the Land Development Code, the development of the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, and the proposals for Austin’s transit future that culminated in the Project Connect plan. Learning from the City and Capital Metro on their respective efforts, while representing the views of transportation professionals, my City Councilmember, and District 2 constituents, has been one of the more rewarding experiences of my life and made me want to do more.

I joined the ATXelerator program because I was intrigued by the opportunity to get a deep dive into how the City works. The program is ostensibly about growing the candidate pool for future City of Austin Councilmembers and board/commission members but, more practically, it’s about growing regional leadership.

The topics covered in the ATXelerator program not only touch on many of the most important issues facing the City and its future, but also why they can be so challenging and how interconnected many of them are. Most of the presenters are long-time Austinites, with as much history in the City of Austin as they have expertise in their particular topics. They are also well-connected community members that understand how a consensus might be formed around a certain issue. The experts who have presented, the Board of Directors and Advisory Board, and mentors form a who’s who of Austinites that I can connect with to help get advice with navigating my career, my work, and my life in the City. I have already taken advantage of these newfound resources several times.

Perhaps most importantly, the efforts that the 2021 cohort lead and participate in are inspiring (and occasionally daunting when I’m feeling competitive). By joining the program, I am now connected to 33 more community leaders with whom I can lean on and learn from, that I can support in their future endeavors, and that I can look for help from when I need it. Learning about the diversity of backgrounds, educations, and career paths that have led us to this program, I now have more ideas about how to support this City and region, and opportunities to support people who are already doing the work to continue to make Austin the great place that it is. And I'm grateful that such a program exists to help make these connections.

— Dan Hennessey

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