Kelly Veney Darnell MPM ’93 has worked in just about every industry. She began her career on the Hill and went on to manage nonprofits, get a law degree, work in investment banking and even run the DC school bus system.
“I went from working on a trading desk to being the chief operating officer for the State Superintendent of Education,” says Darnell. “Someone believed in me enough to believe that I could do that. And I worked very hard to make sure that I did not disappoint them.”
Now, Darnell is getting back to her roots — policy. Darnell serves as chief operating officer at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank that focuses on bipartisan policymaking in a range of areas, including health, energy, economics and education. But ask Darnell about getting back to policy and she’ll tell you she never left it behind.
“I always go in and out of policy because at the end of the day, I have always wanted to have an impact,” she says. “How can I make America better? I always go back to that policy degree.”
Some of the many accomplishments Darnell has achieved in her career include working on Hillary Clinton’s healthcare bill, serving as Atlanta’s federal affairs director during the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, and working on housing policy at Fannie Mae. Most recently, Darnell was executive vice president and COO for The Executive Leadership Council (ELC), a membership of senior Black executives from across corporate America.
In her current role, Darnell brings her range of experiences to look at today’s most pressing issues and engage in bipartisan conversations to create actionable solutions.
“The benefit of having all of the experiences I have is that when looking at policies, I understand how they impact real people,” Darnell says.
When looking at policies, I understand how they impact real people.Kelly Veney Darnell MPM '93
She also hopes that today's policy students will continue to bring passion to policy work.
“Quite frankly we need that idealism again,” she says. “We need people to believe that we can create a society where everyone has an equal chance of being successful.”
Her advice to current students: always value yourself first. Even if that means changing up your career.
“When you are in a place, if you don't feel like it is going to nurture you, if you are not growing, even if you're not progressing at the level that you think you should, you have to have the wherewithal to move on to another experience,” she explains. “You just have to keep going and whatever your North Star is — you have to continue to work toward it.”
For Darnell, her North Star is policy. Now that she's back in the thick of it, she intends to use her diverse background to continue improving our country.
“I'm doing this work so that every kid has an equal opportunity,” she says. “That's what I hope that Maryland is still creating in their students: an understanding that everyone should have an equal opportunity and how we can create that world.”