Keyanna Conner earned her Ph.D. in chemistry from VCU. Now she oversees five Virginia government agencies.

Virginia Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner earned her doctorate in chemistry from VCU.

Keyanna Conner, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’15/H&S), was running late to work in a Virginia Commonwealth University chemistry lab in February 2007 when she caught Barack Obama’s presidential campaign kickoff speech in Illinois on CNN.

“I was sitting there and, like, tears are coming down,” Conner said. “There’s all of these emotions that I really didn’t know I had.”

Conner, who was pursuing her doctorate from the Department of Chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences, found herself inspired by Obama and his message of change and public service. “Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what’s needed to be done,” Obama said in that speech. “Today we are called once more, and it is time for our generation to answer that call.”

“Obama called us to action,” Conner said. “It wasn’t just talking about change, but what can you do? So I started supporting his campaign in the evenings late at night, making phone calls and doing data entry. Then we started to win, right? And it’s like, well, while you’re winning you just can’t quit this thing. So I was pulling crazy hours in the lab and then late at night continuing to help out other states from here in Richmond.

“A passion just started to stir up inside of me and it hasn’t left,” she said.

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