Hawks to Watch: Kelly Houghteling, Deputy Town Administrator

Why Kelly’s a Hawk to Watch:

Kelly Houghteling is always up for an adventure. When she’s off the clock, you can expect to find her outdoors hiking, biking, and fly-fishing in the Rocky Mountains, which she calls home. She even made the trek up to the 19,341-foot summit of Africa’s highest mountain, Mt. Kilimanjaro, once during a trip to Tanzania.

The KU alum has approached her professional journeys with a similar sense of exploration and curiosity. From the time she arrived on Mount Oread as an undergraduate in 2007, Kelly knew she wanted to make her mark by giving back. Now, after earning both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the College, she’s on to new adventures, fulfilling her ambitions through public service and leadership in local government as Deputy Town Administrator at the town of Wellington, Colorado and president of the League of Women in Government.

In Kelly’s line of work, each day holds new experiences, unpredictable obstacles, and a fair share of hardships. But to those with the patience, understanding, and grit to roll with the punches and take challenges as they come, the rewards can hardly be overstated. Learn about Kelly’s path to public service, and see what she had to say about leading with empathy, what she hopes to be doing ten years (hopefully it’ll include celebrating a KU basketball national championship, she says), and the importance of writing thank you notes. Discover what makes Kelly a Hawk to Watch.

Tell us in a sentence or two what you do for a living:

As the Deputy Town Administrator, I make a daily impact in the community through the efficient delivery of public services and help to operationalize the council’s vision for the future. I also serve as the President of the League of Women in Government, a group dedicated to moving the needle forward on the number of women serving in leadership positions in local government.

How did you end up doing what you do? Was there a certain moment when things came together? Or was it a longer journey?

I entered KU with a desire to give back to the community, but unsure how to make that into a career. As a liberal arts student, I was able to explore different interests and develop my critical thinking skills. It wasn’t until graduate school and my internship with the City of Fort Collins when I knew local government was the right career path.

How did your KU degree prepare you for your current job?

The KU MPA program gave me direction on how to put my passion into practice and gave me a strong support network with alumni across the country. Public service is an honorable career for people gritty enough to accept its challenges.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

Being named the Colorado City/County Manager Association Assistant Manager of the year was very special. I was recognized for my leading role on several large projects in Windsor, most notably the establishment of the $3.3 million Railroad Quiet Zone throughout the community as well as the construction of a $14 million public works facility. I was also recognized for my work as the Chair of Colorado Women Leading Government and helping to launch the state’s first conference.

What’s your lowest career moment and how did you pick yourself up and move on?

There are many hard days in public service. I’ve witnessed the flooding of my community, a major downtown fire that destroyed a historic building, and the horrific accident that killed a child during a town parade. On the worst days, we must band together as a community to provide support, grieve, ask for help, and fill the gaps of loss with love. 

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I hope to be leading an outstanding municipal organization as the city manager, giving back to the profession, and celebrating a KU men’s and women’s basketball national championship!

What do you know now that you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self?

Be patient with yourself. You don’t need to have the answers to life’s big questions yet.

What’s your best career pro-tip?

Lead with empathy, take on tasks outside of your comfort zone, and write thank you notes.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

Living in the Rockies, I spend my time on the weekends fly-fishing, biking, hiking, and reading.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro!

Be like Kelly. Find your adventure. For more information, visit the Department of Sociology, the Institute for Leadership Studies, and the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas. Also visit the town of Wellington, Colorado and the League of Women in Government. And meet more Hawks to Watch.

Hawks to Watch are disrupters. They’re poised for greatness, inspiring their colleagues and excelling in their professions. Basically, they’re killing it. Having recently graduated, they are just starting to leave their mark and we can’t wait to see how their story unfolds. These Jayhawks span all industries including business, non-profits, tech, healthcare, media, law and the arts.