By Kate Helm
Early in his career with the Social Security Administration (SSA), Kenya Allen ’02 made a difference in people’s lives but wanted more. As a lead program analyst at SSA’s headquarters in Baltimore, Md., Allen now impacts programs that affect millions of Americans.
“I do not have to go far to see the value of my work,” says Allen, who began working for SSA as social insurance specialist after graduating with a degree in psychology. “I have family, friends, and neighbors who rely on Social Security disability benefits to help fulfill their basic living needs.”
One of 50 employees selected from 2,100 applicants for the SSA’s National Leadership Program, he rotated through a variety of challenging leadership and developmental assignments over 18 months. He obtained his current position after a four-month shift with the Office of Disability Determinations.
Allen monitors and forecasts the impact of state furloughs and hiring freezes on disability claims processing. Fully funded by SSA, including staff salaries and benefits, state disability agencies process medical determinations for eligibility. Despite being federally funded, some agencies are subjected to statewide furloughs, delaying millions of dollars in disability payments to Americans in need.
Allen works hard to convince government officials of the devastating impact these state furloughs have on people who rely on disability benefits. The advice of Lafayette professors often echoes in his head when he’s drafting testimony, letters, and other high-level correspondence to support SSA’s proposed legislation to prohibit states from furloughing federally funded disability services without SSA authorization.
“In almost every course I took, whether it was biology, government and law, or psychology, there was an expectation for students to clearly and effectively organize and express their thoughts,” he says. “I write for diverse audiences daily, including agency executives, Congress, and the public. Much of the advice and feedback from my professors still resonates, and I regularly employ what I learned about writing.”
More than academics molded Allen into the leader he is today. A starter at defensive back for two-and-a-half years on Lafayette’s Division I football team, he was a recipient of the James F. Bryant ’40 Award for Excellence and earned Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors. On the football field, he learned perseverance after suffering a career-ending head injury his junior year.
“I learned about resiliency and not quitting in the face of adversity; I served as a student coach my senior season,” says Allen, who also was president of Brothers of Lafayette and director of marketing activities for the Aaron O. Hoff Memorial Project. “A large part of the Lafayette experience is about growing and experiencing new things. As a student-athlete, I built lifelong connections with talented and dedicated individuals who were willing to press forward even when things were not going well. We continued to work hard and strived to get better one play at a time. Because of that spirit of resiliency, many of us have moved on to do wonderful things since Lafayette.”