Staff Academy Alumni Spotlight: Kathleen Kirkpatrick | NDTC

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NDTC’s Staff Academy participants enter the program with a variety of professional backgrounds and interests. Kathleen Kirkpatrick is a shining representation of this truth.

Kathleen graduated from the Staff Academy digital cohort in 2019. Instead of working directly with candidates on campaigns, she found her passion working with progressive organizations on the ground. 

The work is local, and the results affect each member of the community directly. 

Coming from the Deep South, we caught up with Kathleen Kirkpatrick to talk about all things Staff Academy. 

Getting Up-Close and Personal

What brought you to NDTC’s Staff Academy? Why did you want to pursue a career in Democratic politics?

Kathleen Kirkpatrick: In 2018, an NDTC staff member came to Alabama to do local in-person training. I admired the quality of the training in comparison with past experiences. 

I got the bug to explore working in progressive politics full time after working as Finance Director on Tabitha Isner’s (AL-2) Congressional campaign. Afterward, I looked for online training that provided its participants with a flexible schedule. 

A Career That Dives Deeper 

What career field were you in prior to Staff Academy? What education, experiences, skills, and training did you bring to the program?  

Kathleen Kirkpatrick: I’ve worked primarily as an environmental engineer, sustainability advocate, and educator. 

With a degree in Ocean Engineering, I started my career working for the federal government in the late ‘80s. My role as a National Environmental Policy Act Specialist involved a lot of engagement with the public. 

I learned how important it is to involve the community in decision-making. At the time, I didn’t consider myself particularly political, despite always being an informed voter. 

When I moved back to my home state of Alabama in 2012, I got more involved. We had to recruit and elect better leaders if we were going to build a more just future for the people of our state. 

In 2015, I joined the Selma to Montgomery March. That year commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the demonstration, which called for a national Voting Rights Act. Being a part of the event galvanized my interest in building progressive political power in the Deep South.

There Are No Limits with Staff Academy

What obstacles did you face in pursuing a career in politics prior to Staff Academy?

Kathleen Kirkpatrick: My age (I’m in my 50s), gender, and the prevailing assumption that middle-aged white women from the South are all conservative Christians. 

I’ve always been an early adopter of new technology. I’m a quick learner. And, I balance those traits with a sense of practicality and problem-solving. 

Yet, there’s this sense in our culture that, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Opportunities That Work For You

How has your career progressed after graduating from Staff Academy?

Kathleen Kirkpatrick: Jobs in progressive politics are very limited in Alabama. I had family members to care for that prevented me from relocating. 

So, when we graduated, I was most interested in finding ways I could apply these new skills to remote work. Fortunately, I landed a position with the Contest Every Race project at Resistance Labs

My work recruited down-ballot Democratic candidates in swing states, utilizing many of the digital skills I learned through Staff Academy. 

Recently, I’ve taken a full-time position with an Alabama-based grassroots organization, Hometown Action, as Strategic Initiatives & Political Director. We did a lot of GOTV work for the 2020 Election. Currently, I’m working on leading a climate action program that combines my sustainability background with digital skills.

Using Digital To Reach Voters

How did Staff Academy prepare you for advancing your career? 

Kathleen Kirkpatrick: Learning a broader range of digital organizing techniques has given me valuable knowledge to understand what we can do better. In the same vein, the program helped me identify which aspects of digital interested me most. 

For instance, when I began the NDTC Staff Academy, I thought I’d wind up working mostly on communications. Ultimately, I realized I was much more interested in harnessing emerging tactics and technology for effectively reaching rural voters.

An Ever-Growing Staff Academy Network

What would you say is the best part of Staff Academy? 

Kathleen Kirkpatrick: The people! The NDTC staff and instructors are terrific. 

Our Staff Academy cohort was wonderfully diverse. And, we all learned from one another. 

Many of us knew one another from our online projects and assignments. But, the few days of in-person training really solidified our networks. 

It’s a great network, and I’m excited to see it grow with each year’s new cohort. 

Ask Questions

Do you have advice for those who want to apply?

Kathleen Kirkpatrick: Ask plenty of questions. Reach out to some of us who have been through the program. NDTC staff, trainers, and Staff Academy alumni want to help and guide you through this process. 

The questions most frequently asked are: 1) How much time does it take, and 2) do you have to relocate? 

Here’s my answer. The time commitment is manageable with a full-time job or school workload. Like so many other things in life, you’ll get more out of the training if you make it a priority. 

There aren’t any other opportunities like this that I’m aware of, and you’ll be glad you applied!

Staff Academy Launches Careers

Some career paths for our alumni look traditional. Others don’t. 

Some alumni find themselves applying the skills they learned in Staff Academy to different fields and facets of Democratic politics. 

Between Sam, Akash, and Kathleen, you can see that no one trajectory is the same. 

Kathleen took what Staff Academy gave her and found her passion for galvanizing progressive support by working with local organizations. She used her past experiences in federal government to advance her career in politics. 

We give you the tools. It’s what you do with those tools that make a difference in Democratic leadership. Visit our Staff Academy website to learn how it can help you create change in your community. 

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