A high school agriculture class may not seem like a place that would lead to working for a U.S. congressman, but Colleen Kennedy can trace her journey back through a CTE class she took out of a wish to have a more active approach to learning.
Kennedy, a legislative aide in U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo’s office, graduated from Ocean Springs High School in 2012 before enrolling at Mississippi State University (MSU) to study communication. Her time at Ocean Springs is filled with many areas that grew her interest in communication and public service, but it was her involvement in an agriculture class and the school’s FFA chapter that fostered her leadership and public speaking skills.
“I entered the class simply because I had a space to fill in my schedule, but the hands-on course helped me learn,” she said. “I’ve found that it’s important students have control to have engagement and involvement. CTE is unique in that aspect.”
At the time, Ocean Springs had an agriculture and natural resources class that covered planting and life cycles by allowing students to work in a greenhouse and grow fruits and vegetables. Kennedy selected the class not necessarily because she had an interest in agriculture, but because the class’ active and practical approach was a contrast to her other traditional classes.
Additionally, Kennedy joined the high school’s FFA chapter and served as vice president of the student organization. She competed in public speaking events after receiving encouragement from her teacher, who saw her natural potential.
“I really grew my skills by speaking in front of random strangers at those competitions,” Kennedy said.
At the end of her college career, Kennedy applied for an internship with Palazzo’s Washington, D.C. office and was accepted. After the summer internship, she took a full-time position in the office, where she researches information, answers questions, and compiles constituent concerns on policy topics like education, labor, and insurance. She assembles the information so the congressman and his staff are informed on the topic for upcoming legislation and other needs. Although the congressman’s office is particularly interested in the effects of legislation and research on Mississippi, Kennedy works with staffers and others from across the country.
“It’s ‘let me see how other states are similar to Mississippi in ways I would have never noticed before.’ We identify what is best for our state and work with others to promote that,” she said.
Kennedy says the work has helped her better understand her home state. Although her focus in D.C. isn’t in agriculture, she said the CTE class at Ocean Springs High School gave her skills in public speaking and working with others she still utilizes today.