A former Marine, Speciale wants to use his MPP skills in a federal government capacity to support regulation compliance for better safety outcomes.
Headshot of Kennon Speciale
Kennon Speciale

"Of course, there are some challenges when starting grad school with a family," said Kennon Speciale, MPP Class of 2025, "but during orientation programs—primarily during Jump Start and Math & Coding Camp—I got a good taste of what my work to home life ratio would be."

Speciale, who had moved back to McHenry, IL from South Carolina with his wife, their four-year old, and a newborn, said they chose McHenry for the family connection and the location. "McHenry is close enough to the city that I could jump on a train and be downtown in an hour but far enough away that there's a horse farm at the end of my street.”

Although Speciale said the orientation programs helped level-set his Harris experience, he cited two University resources as having an outsized impact on him thus far: "First, the Office for Military-Affiliated Communities has been crucial. Dr. Terrell Odom, the Director, is exceptional at connecting veterans with whatever will help ease our transition from military to civilian and student life. Second, working as a project manager for The Stone Center for Research on Wealth Inequality and Mobility has really folded me into the University of Chicago experience. Grace Hammond, the Center's Executive Director, has been pivotal in my transition from the military to higher education."

Speciale said his initial interest in policy began while he was a Marine. “After graduating high school, I knew that in order to receive a formal education, I had to do something that would separate me from my peers—and put me in a position where I'd be able to pay for my own college. The Marine Corps was a solid option."

After completing combat training, Speciale went to the Department of Defense Fire Academy, eventually becoming an instructor at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. There, he enrolled in the Community College of the Air Force and earned two associate degrees: one in instruction of technology and military science and the other in fire science. 

“Eventually, I chose to pursue my undergraduate degree in occupational safety because I had done accident investigations on near misses while working in an occupational safety office in the military, and I wanted to get involved in the research of that data. I chose to enroll at Waldorf University in Iowa because upon completion of the degree, you are credentialed to the Board of Certified Safety Professionals."

Pursuing the Master of Public Policy at Harris, Speciale said, was a logical next step for his career pathway—and an outgrowth of his work with near misses. "Eventually, I’d like to return to work for the federal government—perhaps with the Veterans Affairs Dept doing health data analytics or with the Department of Labor doing occupational safety—and apply research methods to find better ways to get regulation compliance for a better outcome overall."

Speciale is also pursuing the Health Policy Specialization—"I think that will be a good touchpoint if I explore a career in health data analytics."

So far, Speciale said, Harris and UChicago have been exceptional. "It's an incredibly friendly campus. Everybody—especially in the Admissions Office and the Career Development Office—is willing to help out if there's anything you need. Plus, I appreciate that you can see faculty members openly disagreeing with each other on social media—the fact that UChicago doesn't make the community present a unified front speaks volumes about the healthy academic environment here."