Shannon Kennedy, a second-year student at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, is earning a Master of Public Policy degree and specializing in environmental and energy policy and pursuing her passion for public service.
Kennedy’s interest in public service began with her high school love for American history. During her senior year, she enrolled in a class that allowed students to focus on a particular subject of their interest. The class culminated with a trip to Washington, D.C., where students interviewed congressmen, met with NGO leaders and interacted with various government personnel, enabling students to see policy in practice.
Originally from Rochester, NY, Kennedy’s affection for the environment was fostered from a young age by her father, who is an environmental science teacher. As she explains, “I’ve grown up loving the environment and being very environmentally cautious - and I took a lot of environmental courses in my undergraduate degree just for fun - but I never considered that this could become a career path for me.”
For her undergraduate degree, Kennedy majored in political science and sociology at University of Buffalo. Though she briefly contemplated a legal career - going so far as to spend a semester interning in Washington D.C. with the U.S. Attorney General’s Family Law Office - she ultimately decided that she could have a greater impact on the world through environmental policy.
Though she applied to thirteen graduate programs across the country, Kennedy chose the University of Maryland School of Public Policy because of its strong specializations. “I chose Maryland because of the environmental and energy specialization. I was able to speak with Professor [Nathan] Hultman while I was in the application process, and I was really impressed with the classes that were in the environmental specialization, and especially within the energy specialization. I hadn’t seen that breadth and depth of environmental and energy-related coursework available at any other schools.”
While at the School, Kennedy has taken advantage of many academic and extracurricular resources, including exploring exciting hands-on learning experiences, volunteer activities and working with the Policy Student Government Association. She has also studied abroad in India, where she learned the importance of comparative policymaking, and Indonesia, where she studied complex social-environmental problems. At her internship at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, she enjoyed the real-life application of lessons learned in the classroom. Kennedy is proud to have chosen to attend graduate school, saying, “Since I’ve been in graduate school, I’ve had great work experiences that I would not have been able to have otherwise.”
Most notably, Kennedy took part in the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris with Dean Orr and six other SPP students in December 2015. Attending the Conference of the Parties 21 (COP21) was the achievement of a lifetime for Kennedy, who always hoped to attend at least one COP sometime in her career. With the help and support of the School, Kennedy was able to attain her goal, making it the “epitome of how amazing [her] experience [at SPP] has been.”
In her busy last semester at SPP, Kennedy volunteered at the Climate Action 2016 forum and summit. She also found time to devote to philanthropy; she was a team leader in this year’s Do Good Challenge. In the future, she may continue her work with the federal government, but is also excited about starting an environmentally-oriented business venture with fellow SPP environmental policy student Christina Bowman. Reflecting on her great experiences in graduate school, Kennedy recalls how she didn’t realize that her passion could be a career until coming to SPP and is excited to put the skills she’s acquired to use in the real world. As she explains, “This is where I was meant to be.”