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Spotlight on Commerce: Ko Barrett, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Blog post by Ko Barrett, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 

My name is Ko Barrett. I am a first-generation professional and the first person in my extended family to attend college. We were a working-class family of six, living in the “inner city” where crime was rampant and civil unrest was a fact of life during the turbulent late 1960s.

I was fortunate to receive financial assistance to attend parochial elementary school. It was here that I gained a firm scholastic foundation and a love of sports. This carried me through high school and I maintained good grades and outstanding scholastic athletic achievement. I was later recruited to play sports in college. 

However, in my family, we did not understand the importance of a college education. Had I not been recruited to play sports in college, I likely would not have attended and the arc of my professional career would be quite different. Athletics were my ticket to advancement and, quite frankly, provided me with the self-confidence to throw myself into an unknown world. Even still, I was thrown off track a few times by life events. It took me over ten years to complete my B.S. in Environmental Studies. And, two years ago, I gave the commencement address and received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from my Alma Mater.

Today, knowing it all could have gone differently helps me to recognize the diverse and valuable contributions made by others less fortunate than myself. Life experience, academic training, and luck have made me what I am today and helped me to become a Senior Executive in a federal agency and a leader of an international climate science organization.

Ed. note: This post is part of the very first Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of the Department of Commerce employees who are First Generation Professionals. First Generation Professionals are one of the first in their immediate families to enter the professional work environment. They are professionals with varying socio-economic backgrounds, life experiences, skills and talents that diversify our workforce.