Alumnus Reflects on Path from Student to Public Servant

oath of office fist bump

Brevard College alumnus, Kody H. Kinsley ‘07 was appointed North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Secretary in November of 2021 and took office January 1, 2022. “If you had asked me a few years ago if I was going to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services the answer would not have been ‘yes,’” Secretary Kinsley shared.

Kinsley grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina and often visited family friends in Cedar Mountain. He attended a large high school and his college search was influenced by his familiarity with the Brevard area. His first impression of Brevard College was touring campus with Admissions Counselor, Betty Kay Brookshire and noting something unique. “She knew every single person by sight – student, faculty member, first and last name. I have always valued community so that really stood out to me,” he said.

The challenges Kinsley faced growing up and attending college shaped his public service values. He said, “I was a first-generation college student and that was made possible by Pell Grants and Scholarship Aid from Brevard College. I didn’t have health insurance until I was in my 20s and my personal experiences were driven by a patchwork of public programs that made my life better. They gave me opportunities that others didn’t have.”

Kinsley majored in Health Sciences with a double minor in Math and Chemistry.  As a student, he was engaged in numerous campus organizations and honor societies, including Omicron Delta Kappa and the Tri-Beta Biological Honor Society.  Kinsley’s senior research thesis focused on the public health intervention of limiting smoking in indoor settings  He designed the study in partnership with faculty at the Harvard School of Public Health, while he completed a summer research program there in quantitative science.  The research studied particulate matter in Brevard, NC restaurants with and without smoking limitations and contrasted state policies across the nation.  His original research won second place in the regional Tri-Beta Biological Honor Society competition. 

To help fund his education, Kinsley participated in the work-study program and worked as a Student Ambassador in the Admissions Office and fondly recalls coming back to campus in late summer to help with orientation. Kinsley credits his Liberal Arts Education with his ability to think critically and broadly. He said, “Having that broad-based exposure while also getting a Science education at Brevard was the right foundation for me on my path, ranging from policy-making at the White House, to Operations at the U.S. Treasury, to now leading the health and human services department for the state.”

In the summer before his senior year Kinsley completed an internship at Appalachian Counseling, a regional behavioral healthcare company he was connected to by a faculty member at Brevard.  After graduating summa cum laude with his bachelor’s degree, Kinsley would go on to work at Appalachian Counseling, helping them launch new programs to serve the community, optimizing their operations,  and it’s where he first got involved in advocating for improving NC’s health policy.  Kinsley would later return to Brevard College on staff, leading the Annual Fund program.

After graduate school at the University of California, at Berkeley, Kinsley served at the White House as Policy Analyst on the Domestic Policy Council in the Obama administration and several roles at the US Treasury Department where he ultimately served as Assistant Secretary for Management in both the Obama and Trump administrations. With the experience and knowledge gained at the White House and US Treasury Department, he returned to his home state of North Carolina to serve as Chief Deputy Secretary for Health and Operations Lead for the North Carolina COVID-19 Response.

Kinsley’s advice to current students at Brevard College is twofold: embrace the natural beauty, wilderness, and community that surrounds the campus and invest in relationships. He said, “Those four years my life was very much on campus and then I got involved in local politics. So, the first thing I would tell Brevard College students is to integrate into the community and take advantage of the natural resources that are available.”

He also suggests counting faculty as more than someone you will know for only a semester, but someone who can help you for a lifetime. When the announcement was made of his appointment as Secretary, many Brevard College faculty reached out to Kinsley in celebration. He was thrilled to hear from them because his relationships with faculty continue to influence his life and career. “Dr. Frick-Rupert and Dr. Burrows and numerous others have had an impact on me and I am so grateful to them all. I can’t leave out Dr. Bringle, Dr. Mary K White, Dr. Clark Wellborn, and many others…those people have remained advisors, mentors, and provided connections for me through life.”

Before Kinsley graduated, he was honored with the Future Distinguished Alumnus award, as a student who brought distinction and respect to Brevard College, and he recently came across a copy of his acceptance speech. He said, “It was all about health and how health is the great equalizer in society, and that promoting equitable access to health is the key to reaching important goals. While it didn’t feel then like I was headed to this job, perhaps there was something there.”