LEESVILLE, La. -- If someone had told Leesville High School alumnus Suzette Kent in high school that she would one day work in the White House, she said they would've had the biggest laugh. But now, she is the first woman to hold the prestigious role of serving as the U.S. Federal Chief Information Officer--having been appointed by President Donald Trump himself in January 2018.
"It's an incredible honor," Kent said. "It is a privilege to serve this country every day...in the technology space."
As Federal CIO, Kent decides and establishes policy relating to how all U.S. federal government agencies utilize technology to accomplish their missions. She also oversees how these agencies are meeting their goals, for the executive and legislative branches.
"I work across all the agencies of the federal government," Kent said. "There are 24 major agencies and 100 plus after that. I work with them on how our federal government uses technology to better serve American citizens, and do it in a way that secures privacy of information of U.S. citizens."
She said her job is very complex and has many components.
"[It] may sound simple, but each day is incredibly challenging," she said. "I've had the opportunity to help pass new laws. And across our technology in the federal government, we have 90,000 people who work to deliver those services every day. We spend almost $100 billion of our federal money delivering those services."
Kent spoke about her journey to Washington, D.C., in a speech to Vernon Parish high school seniors at the Vernon Parish Academic Achievement Awards Banquet in Leesville, Louisiana, earlier this month. And it started in Vernon Parish schools, including her Alma mater--Leesville High School.
"I take what I learned here with me every day," she said. "I had some of the influential learning experiences here in these schools, and they've shaped my learning, my life, my career and my experiences around the world."
She said her learning experiences in Vernon Parish "fueled my curiosity, love of learning and [problem solving]."
"Those things got me moving forward on my path," she added.
Then, Kent went to college at Louisiana State University, initially majoring in biochemistry. She also tried out marketing and journalism majors before deciding to pursue a career in technology because she liked how much problem-solving it entailed.
Before moving into the government sector, Kent was an industry global leader in transforming large-scale businesses--working with the world's most complex organizations. Her experience ranges from technology development and product design, to technology and risk policy.
She spent more than 29 years in the financial services industry before becoming Federal CIO. She served as a principal at EY, partner at Accenture, consulting president at Carreker Corporation and Managing Director at JPMorgan.
She vividly recalls finding out she had been selected for her coveted White House position.
"When I got the phone call the first time, I said, 'What? Are you kidding? What a phenomenal opportunity and what an honor to work with world leaders,'" Kent said. "The opportunity to represent the U.S. in a global environment is an incredible honor."
And while Washington, D.C., is a long distance away from her Louisiana roots, Kent always remembers what an impact her education in Vernon Parish made in her life.
"I've worked all over the world and met wonderful people everywhere. But my experiences here in the place that I call home...shaped how [I] navigated [my] own journey in the world," Kent said. "It's been an amazing journey. There [have been] a lot of wonderful things, and they started right here."