By Stefanie Wowchuk
When seeing Jacquelyn Gist in her UNC office, one might be surprised to find out she is both a career counselor and town official.
Flamingo and palm tree lights illuminate the walls of her office in Nash Hall. And next to them hangs a large Squirrel Nut Zippers poster.
Her desk is covered with many childhood gadgets such as a Slinky and bright bouncy balls.
And Gist will be the first to admit that she can't coordinate her daily attire.
Although her office and outfits might be decorated uniquely, what makes Gist stand out is the work she does through her two occupations.
Gist works as a counselor with University Career Services by day and as a Carrboro alderman by night.
And her work has given her a love for both the University and the surrounding area.
Gist helped start the homeless shelter in Chapel Hill and recently won the Office of the Provost Public Service Award for her community outreach.
But she cites learning how to read as her greatest achievement.
Gist suffers from a significant learning disability and was unable to read until the age of 10.
"Life got much easier once I learned how to read," she said. "It taught me that everyone has some problem and that some curses are also a blessing. I wouldn't be as effective in my jobs if I didn't have a learning disability."
Gist received her bachelor's degree in philosophy and her master's in social work, both from UNC.
And now, Gist uses her 15 years of experience in social work with nonprofit organizations in both of her positions.
As a career counselor, she helps students interested in careers in nonprofit jobs, the arts and social work. She gives advice on campus organizations to get involved in, internships to apply for and future jobs.
"I think I have the best job on campus," Gist said. "In the nine years I've worked here, I've never had a day when I didn't want to go to work."
Gist said she hopes to help students find jobs that allow them to feel the same way.
"I'm lucky to be blessed to have found my calling. I want my students to have the same experience," she said.
Gist counsels students by her motto: "Moon and McDonald's."
"If you don't reach the moon, you don't end up at McDonald's either, but instead go some place in between," she said.
Gist's colleague, Director of University Career Services Marcia Harris, has worked with Gist since she took the position.
"What I admire most about her is her truly caring attention to the students. She is always willing to go the extra mile if a student is in need," Harris said.
While Gist is busy counseling students from nine to five, at night she is an alderman for Carrboro, a position she has held for the past 11 years.
As one of seven members of the Board of Aldermen, Gist helps set policy affecting the town, from sewer line regulations to tax rates.
Gist said she believes both jobs balance her personality and goals.
"As a Gemini, I have a need to nurture and to kick ass," she said. "At my day job, I have the opportunity to be nurturing and kind, and at night, I can kick ass."
Gist also uses the contacts her job as alderman provides to try and create opportunities for students she counsels and to plug them in to what's going on in the community.
"Being an alderman is hard and can be gut-wrenching. The long-range satisfaction is much better than the short term, so it's worth it," she said.
Although Gist once dreamed of moving up to government beyond the local level, she no longer has the desire.
"I love doing government in a little town and being able to walk down the street and have neighbors and even strangers feel free to come up to me and tell me their needs," she said.
Between her two jobs, Gist said it's hard finding time to do anything else.
But Gist's goals for the future include running for mayor and kayaking in Alaska within the next two years as well as cleaning out her closet.
Despite her contributions to the University and the town, Gist said she still wishes she could coordinate her clothes.
"If all my clothes could match on the same day, it'd be great," she said. "But I guess some things you never learn."
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