Distinguished alumni: Retired city executive Francesca Halbakken’s 35 years of public service leave a lasting legacy
October 11, 2022
If you live in the Sacramento area, chances are you know Francesca Halbakken’s work and you don’t even know it.
Although she spent much of her career out of the public eye, Halbakken’s work, a Sacramento State graduate with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1979, will be part of the City of Sacramento for coming years.
Halbakken has held project management positions on major developments and constructions during his 35 years of public service, projects that include Sacramento Railroads and SAFE Credit Union Convention and Performing Arts Centers , among others.
The Sacramento State Alumni Association will honor Halbakken, who will receive a Distinguished Service Award, and other notable alumni at a celebration and dinner on Thursday, October 13.
“I’m a backstage person and I don’t like being given a lot of attention,” Halbakken said. “When I was told that I had been selected, I was surprised, because I think of so many people I know who have done so many things and I think: ‘Why would you choose me? look so ordinary. So I’m still surprised that I was selected for an honor.
A native of Sacramento, Halbakken originally planned to attend UC Berkeley and pursue a medical career, but those plans changed when she was 19 and transferred to Sac State from Sacramento City College.
“Since I was probably in kindergarten, until my senior year of high school, I had every intention of becoming a surgeon,” she said. “There are some similarities (to the civil service) in that it’s about serving people, and they have both math and science backgrounds.”
Halbakken worked for the state of California and later for the federal government as a civilian project manager in the US Army Corps of Engineers. After deciding the federal or state levels weren’t the right fit, she landed a job with the city of Sacramento in 1986, working her way up and eventually retiring as deputy city manager in 2018. She continued to work part-time for another 3 and a half years, extending his efforts. on the downtown convention center and theater projects until his recent full retirement.
“We started when I retired, so it was a great transition to be able to work on these projects,” she said.
Halbakken’s advice to anyone who wants to work in the public service is to get into the agency of your choice and then focus on finding the job you want.
“The important thing if you want to be a civil servant is to get in somewhere, and once you’re there, it’s easier to find jobs within the organization,” Halbakken said. “I highly recommend the public service. You might get paid an extra increment (working somewhere else), but for the satisfaction you get from being able to help people, on top of the public benefits, it’s definitely worth it.
Halbakken said retirement allows her to spend more time with her granddaughters, family and friends. She stays active by reading, baking, cooking and walking her dog. She even recently started pickleball.
She also recently started serving on the board of Girl Scouts Heart of Central California and said she loves being involved with the organization because of her passion for helping young girls engage in STEM and the outdoors.
“I feel like this is a way for me to continue my public service in retirement,” Halbakken said.
For Halbakken, it is an honor to be recognized with an award from the University that has given her so much.
“I feel really lucky that Sac State is here in the town where I grew up and that you can get such a great education here in my home,” she said. “Not every city has a big university like this.”