Mary Kennedy is the city administrator in Blue Earth. As the top administrator for this town of 3,174, she focuses on managing day-to-day city operations and helping build a better future for the community she serves. Kennedy enjoys and promotes small-town living and relishes working in a career that allows her to make a difference in people’s lives.
Kennedy’s path to becoming a city administrator began with a degree in urban and regional studies from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Prior to graduation, she interned with the City of Jordan in its planning department. After that, she started her professional career as an economic developer with Community and Economic Development Associates before moving on to her current role at the city of Blue Earth in 2020.
At each stage of her career, Kennedy seized opportunities to establish relationships and make connections that would support her as she grew professionally. In this month’s Rising Star interview, she describes her career path and the lessons she has learned along the way.
Why did you choose this career path?
I believe this career path chose me. I originally wanted to be a speech and language pathologist and enrolled in classes at St. Cloud State University, but I quickly learned that I wasn’t interested in that field. I researched other programs at the university and found the Planning and Community Development program. One of the first sentences on the program’s website states: “In majoring in the planning and community development major, you will learn how to create better places to live and work.”
I ultimately transferred to MSU because it was closer to home and family, and I was still able to obtain my undergraduate degree without forfeiting any of the classes or time I had spent at SCSU. At both universities, I met so many passionate people and made lasting relationships, which solidified my decision.
What personal strengths help you excel in your chosen career?
Leadership, listening, advocacy and communication.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The best part about my job is working with so many different people on a variety of projects and making small but meaningful changes. I enjoy the challenge of looking for the most efficient, affordable, accurate and inclusive way to get things done.
What inspires/drives you?
I am inspired by the people around me. As a public servant, I know that I have an opportunity to help implement valuable ideas and be a small part of my community’s future.
Also, being part of a team with such diverse knowledge and experiences inspires me to continue learning, lead through collaboration, and bring a sense of fun to the workplace.
What advice would you give to other young professionals?
Three things. First and most importantly, have fun! You are young and bring energy and perspective to your workplace. Use that to your advantage. Second, don’t be afraid to ask questions. People don’t expect that you will have all the answers. And third, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Your sleep and your health are important. You can’t be great at anything if you’re exhausted or sick.
Are there any training or events that have had a significant impact on your career?
Anything that the League of Minnesota Cities hosts is excellent. Another wonderful event that has really influenced me in my career is the Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities Conference which is hosted by the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality.
What books, podcasts or videos have helped you?
I am a huge book fanatic, so I truly could never pick just one. But I’ll say this: books have helped me tremendously. I still have my textbooks from college, and I do refer to them now and then. I usually have two or three books open at a time, anything from personal growth to psychological thrillers or romance.
What app can’t you live without?
Libby! It’s a great library app for borrowing books.
Looking back on the beginning of your career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I wish I would’ve recognized sooner that it is okay to be the youngest person in the room and that my age doesn’t disqualify me from participating in discussions or offering my knowledge, experience, or advice. As a young professional, I have so much to learn and still experience. But I know now that I am in the room for a reason, and my insights are valuable.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I’ll be inching a bit closer to 40! I see myself as a working wife and mom, probably running on even more coffee than I do now. I see myself happy and fulfilled, working hard and enjoying every day to the fullest.