Rhonda Keenum named to Jackson Zoo board


Rhonda Newman Keenum

Mississippi State University First Lady and Starkville public relations professional Rhonda Newman Keenum has been named to the board of directors of the Jackson Zoological Society, Inc., the formal operating entity of the Jackson Zoo.

Also named to the board was Duane O'Neil, president of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership.

The Zoo opened in 1919 and moved to Livingston Park in 1921 and was operated by the city until 1986. Through an operating agreement with the City of Jackson, Jackson Zoological Society, Inc. has managed the Zoo for the past 19 years. The Zoo serves up to 167,000 visitors annually and is considered a living classroom. More than 35,000 school children visit the Zoo each year with their teachers. There were more than 27,000 participants in last year's education programs.

"As a parent and as a professional, I know the value of having a vibrant, high-quality zoological park available to the children of Mississippi," said Keenum. "I am pleased to be able to join my fellow board members in working to advance this important Mississippi asset. Mississippi State's status as the state's only university training veterinarians and other animal health professionals certainly makes this a good fit for me and my family."

Keenum is president of Keenum Company, a public affairs firm that provides strategic counsel, government relations and communication services to a diverse group of leading corporations, coalitions and trade associations.

Keenum served as Director of the Office of Public Liaison and Deputy Assistant to President George W. Bush. In this role, Keenum led outreach and communication with constituent groups, including advocacy groups and non-government leaders. She also managed stakeholder initiatives designed to engage and advance discussions on the President's legislative priorities. Additionally, Keenum managed Presidential events at the White House and in metropolitan Washington, D.C. Keenum reported directly to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.

Prior to her White House appointment, Keenum served as the acting Undersecretary for Commerce for International Trade Administration. Keenum held this role and at the same time served as the Assistant Secretary and Director General of the United States and Foreign Commercial Service (USFCS).

At USFCS, Keenum managed a worldwide organization responsible for connecting small-and medium-sized businesses with export opportunities. She was the export representative to the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Trade and Development Program, and the Small Business Administration. In this role, she directed programs to assist U.S. firms in identifying oversees projects. Keenum had oversight of the Foreign Service offices within the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Asian Development Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. She managed a budget exceeding $224 million and led a team of 1,800 including Commercial Service officers and Foreign Service nationals in 162 international offices (located in the embassies and consulates) and a domestic team of trade representatives in 105 offices in 46 states.

Prior to her Senate confirmation as Assistant Secretary, Keenum was a Senior Vice President at Edelman Worldwide where she managed several award-winning national and state public affairs campaigns. Before joining Edelman, she served as Vice President at Ketchum Public Relations in Washington, D.C.

Before entering the public relations arena, Keenum was Press Secretary for then-U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker (R-MS); served as Deputy Political Director for the Republican National Committee Victory 2000 effort; and played key roles in both the 1996 Dole for President and 1992 Bush-Quayle campaigns.

She is a member of the board of directors of Entergy, the CREATE Foundation, the Starkville-MSU Symphony Association, the Jackson Zoological Society, and is an advisory board member for the Palmer Home for Children.

Keenum is a native of Booneville, and a graduate of Mississippi State University. She resides in Mississippi State, Mississippi, with her husband, Mark, their triplets Katie, Rett and Mary Phillips, and their youngest child, Victoria.

Sid Salter | University Relations

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