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Youth Academy grad career path leads to nations capital
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Elected officials from Great Bend traveled to Washington D.C. last week on a relationship building trip, where they met with Sen. Jerry Moran, and had the pleasure of visiting with his press secretary, Katie Niederee, a graduate of the Great Bend Youth Academy. From left to right: Council member Ken Roberts, City Administrator Howard Partington, Katie Niederee, Mayor Mike Allison, Council member Allene Owen, CPI Qualified Plan Consultants President Jon Prescott, Sen. Jerry Moran and Great Bend Chamber of Commerce President Jan Peters. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

Katie Niederee, a GBHS graduate, was recently picked by Sen. Jerry Moran to join his team as a Senate press secretary.  It meant a move to Washington D.C., where she is settling in after two months.  This week, she had the unique opportunity to visit with some of Great Bend’s elected officials and Chamber members that unknowingly set her on her path when she took part in the Great Bend Youth Academy in seventh grade. “I will never forget the opportunities Howard Partington and Mayor Allison gave me through the Great Bend City Youth academy program,” Niederee said.  She and her peers helped to build support for bringing the ice skating rink to the courthouse square as a part of revitalizing downtown that year.  “That opportunity no doubt shaped my civic interests.”

The Great Bend Youth Academy is an annual summer educational opportunity sponsored by the City of Great Bend for seventh and eight graders.  The program allows students access to the inner workings of the city government, with field trips, presentations and other hands-on experiences. According to the city website, “City personnel make classroom presentations during (students’) sixth and seventh grade years, inviting students to submit applications for participation.”

On Thursday, March 14, a delegation which included Partington, Allison, city councilman Ken Roberts, Chamber of Commerce director Jan Peters, and two others met with Moran and his staff in what Niederee described as a routine relationship building visit.

“In Washington relationships matter, no matter what,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to get things done or to come to compromises when those relationships are in place, and their strengthened and maintained.”

The scope of Niederee’s duties as press secretary include working with Moran and his legislative staff to make certain his views on the issues of the day are being communicated.  For her, that means working with the people back home in Kansas to set up interviews, sharing videos, photos and statements.  It requires her to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle, as well as the become an expert in social media.

“The best part about working in a field like public relations is that our industry is constantly evolving,” she said.

Public relations wasn’t the career path Niederee imagined herself in when she was a student in Great Bend.  When Bill and Robin Niederee, her parents, sent her off to Kansas State University, it was to pursue a medical career.  

“I saw the Mayor and physicians and lawyers as community leaders who made a difference, and that’s who I wanted to be,” she said.
But, her time at K-State opened new doors for her, and that is where she learned her strengths would take her in another direction.  She never realized public relations could be a career path until then.  

After graduating from K-State, she began working for The Richards Group in Dallas, Texas, as part of a team of 30 people who focused specifically on public relations.  According to Niederee, the company is the largest independent branding agency in the country, responsible for the Dodge Ram “Keep Plowing” ad that aired during the Super Bowl in February.  While her focus was on non-profit organizations located both inside and outside of Dallas, she had a small part to play in the project.

When the Dodge Ram team asked for a recommendation from her public relations team about the involvement in FFA, they turned to her.

“It was fun to tap many friends from K-State who were heavily involved in the organization to get their feedback and share it with our Dodge Ram team,” she said.

Not long ago, she learned Moran was interviewing for her current position, and she seized the opportunity to gain a greater connection with her home state once more.

“If you ask anyone from my former gig, they’d tell you I brought up Kansas and Kansas State University in conversation at least once a day,” she said.  “I couldn’t be more proud to call myself a Kansan.”

There have been a number of changes to get used to in her new home.  For one, the workday starts later and runs later in Washington D.C., she reports.  The traffic sometimes leaves her wishing she could get off the highway and travel a dirt road instead.  And she’s still new enough to marvel from time to time that she is often working in the Capital building, often interacting with powerful politicians like Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. John McCain, people she only ever saw on television and in the newspaper in the past.

“Sometimes I get caught up in my work and I forget, but then I look out a window, and there’s the National Mall in front of me,” she said.
Having visitors from home offered her a chance to reflect.  Partington shared a thank-you letter she’d sent him after her experience with the Great Bend Youth Academy, and city councilman Ken Roberts told her he was reminded of how well she stood up to what his peered called his “grilling” of her and another student about the costs and benefits of the ice skating rink all those years ago.  

“What we have in Great Bend, with the Youth Academy, isn’t available in many places,” she said.  “By allowing students to take a stake in their community, the chances are higher that they will come back later in life.”

When she lived in Dallas, it was only an eight hour drive to get home, but now, it will mean a trip on a plane.  Still, she feels blessed that she can come home to visit her family in the town she grew up in.  With her parents, her grandmother, Joyce Niederee, and her sisters Allie, a sophomore at K-State and Sarah, a sophomore at GBHS all rooted in Great Bend, she has an opportunity many of her friends whose parents moved after they graduated do not have.