If you follow Kyla Cox’s Twitter account, you know she’s a fan of the satirical newspaper The Onion, Tim Burton movies, and, perhaps most tellingly, Parks and Recreation—the NBC sitcom about a small-town-Indiana go-getter whose utter devotion to public service makes her a rising star.

Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler) is a fictional character, but she has something of a real-life counterpart in Cox. Consider: Cox, 33, directs the influential Leadership Bloomington-Monroe County program. Last year, she was the board president of Community Kitchen of Monroe County, which feeds needy children and the homeless, and she remains a board member. She balances pursuing a master’s degree in public relations at IUPUI with her day job as director of public relations and community outreach at IU’s Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.

Small wonder that Cox won the Emerging Leader Award last year, given out by the city of Bloomington’s Commission on the Status of Women.

“She has handled difficult situations head-on, with dignity, strength, and wisdom—skipping any self-pity and going right into problem-solving mode,” read, in part, one of the nominations for Cox. “This is the clear-headed strength of character we all hope for in our leaders.”

Cox may be proudest of her work on Leadership Bloomington-Monroe County, which takes a cross-section of members of the community and prepares them to be effective leaders. More than 800 alumni, including Cox, have graduated from the program since it began in 1977.

“One of the reasons it’s such a big deal is that it’s the perfect blend of all of the community’s resources,” says Cox. “It’s directed through IU Bloomington in partnership with The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, so you have a town-gown connection right from the start. And throughout the course, our students are physically moving throughout the community to explore different groups and why they’ve been successful.”

The Bloomington community is Cox’s passion. Born and raised here, with an undergraduate degree in English, studio art, and art history from IU in 2002, she relishes working on behalf of the community through her job and volunteer work. “I’ve watched people come and go, and seen a lot of high school classmates who have moved away and returned,” she says. “I’ve decided I’m going to skip that moving-away and returning, and I’m just going to stay.”