Ambassador Kristie Kenney visits Dallas, discusses career in State Department

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Ambassador Kristie Kenney is the highest ranking career, female State Department official and the fifth ranking official in the State Department. She has also served as ambassador to Thailand, The Philippines and Ecuador.

During her 24-hour visit to Dallas Nov. 20, Ambassador Kristie Kenney met with U.S. business groups, radio hosts, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, SMU students, The Daily Campus staff and many more.

Her main reasons for visiting Dallas were to see how citizens are viewing the country and how businesses are responding to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed trade agreement with 11 other countries that aims to eliminate taxes and barriers to global trade.

“Dallas and the rest of Texas have extraordinary exports to the rest of the world and, of course, Dallas-Fort Worth is a hub in terms of businesses and airports,” Kenney said.

On SMU’s campus, Kenney had a wide-ranging conversation with students and faculty about U.S. foreign policy, trade, the rise of China and current worldwide issues at the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies’ Coffee and Conversations.

“It’s great for me because, as a diplomat, I don’t always get to talk to academics who have studied these issues or students who have a very fresh perspective,” she said.

Kenney found her place in the State Department after college. She said she always felt patriotic and was interested is promoting America around the word.

“I joined the Foreign Service because one, I wanted to have the honor of representing my country; two, I thought it would be exciting and it has been; and three, I actually do like the feeling that what we do matters, that I can make a difference and it’s this amazing opportunity,” she said.

Since joining the State Department, Kenney has served as the senior advisor to the Secretary of State, Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of State, the Department of State Executive Secretary and as a member of the Senior Foreign Service. She has served as U.S. ambassador three times to Thailand, The Philippines and Ecuador.

Kenney was the first female to assume her position as ambassador in Thailand and The Philippines. She said taking on the role was both an opportunity and a challenge.

“It means you have to be very good at your job, you have to be very prepared on the issues, but I also found that in many parts of the world women tend to connect very well,” Kenney said.

With this ability, Kenney found that she was able to go out in different countries and talk to citizens in a way that sometimes a more stereotypical male ambassador couldn’t.

In Thailand, she worked to stop the flow of wildlife trafficking by working with park rangers, customs officers and local officials. In Ecuador, Kenney worked to improve the quality of life and reduce poverty in indigenous communities that had no real source of income.

“It’s one of those moments where you think, ‘we’re just one embassy but we were able to make a huge difference just by organizing ourselves,’” she said.

Out of all the projects she has worked on, Kenney said the ones that have been the most rewarding are the ones that help people, but also help the planet.

“I have a strong passion for the environment, for cleaner oceans, preserving national parks” she said.

Kenney is also passionate about improving education worldwide through exchange programs, national connections and diplomacy overseas.

She credits her upbringing and her time at university for her success in leadership.

“There I found that ability to connect with people, to be interested and curious about the world,” she said.

Kenney believes a career in the State Department is an incredible opportunity and encourages students to apply at or on the department’s mobile apps: FSCareers and DOSCareers. Those interested must take a free Foreign Service exam before being accepted into the program.

“What I would say to people who are interested is go for it, try it out,” she said. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity.”

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