Faculty Chat: Kelly Maxwell

Photo of Kelly Maxwell and her family

October 2015

For this edition of "Faculty Chat", a regular feature where we share things you may not know about IGR faculty members, we sat down with IGR Co-Director (LSA) Kelly Maxwell.  In her role, Kelly provides overall direction for the program in addition to teaching courses and leading several other projects both in and outside of IGR. We hope you enjoy learning about Kelly outside of her work role!

Q: Where did you grow up and where did you go to college?

A: I grew up in a small town called Norwalk, Ohio. My first job was working in a latex balloon factory that my family owned, and I grew up thinking I might want to participate in being part of the family business. My grandfather, however, at that time in his life, didn’t think women could play those roles in the workplace. His preconceived notions were actually very freeing because once I left my small hometown for college, they allowed me to look at other ways I could spend my life that might be more interesting to me. I felt freed from the expectation that I had to continue with the family business.

I stayed in Ohio (Baldwin-Wallace University) for my undergraduate years, studying Business and Political Science. During that time, I was really involved in lots and lots of student organizations. Those experiences really broadened my perspective of going into Higher Education as a career. They showed me the potential of working with student leaders to help them develop and mature in their leadership abilities and identities.

\Since that time, I started to pursue further studies in Higher Education. I moved to Florida to attend Florida State to obtain my Masters degree in Higher Education-Student Affairs. The racial dynamics and related politics while I was down south were a huge learning experience for me, and those also influenced what I studied. After working in the Southeast for several years, I moved on to earn a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from Arizona State University.

Q: Why do you work for IGR? What feelings come up as you think about where you work?

A: When I come to work here, I smile. This is like home and it feels like both a safe place and a challenging place. So my emotions here are way beyond what I think people feel in a normal workplace. It feels deeper for me and part of who I am. I feel deep gratitude for all I’ve learned, and a feeling of happiness and contentment for being in a place that feels like home- I have the same feelings in my house. Colleagues and friends mention that I’ve been with IGR for years and they ask me what my next steps are, but it’s hard for me to imagine because IGR is so much part of me. I don’t know how to not be part of IGR.

Q: Can you tell us about your family?

A: I have a wife and a son. I met my wife, Rose, while I was an Associate Director in IGR. I regularly attended a monthly dialogue group in the LGBTQ community called “Race Matters.” It was a great opportunity to talk through issues of race, social class, and gender identity within the LGBTQ community. Rose also attended this dialogue, and one day I finally got up the courage to ask her out! We’ve been together ever since.

Our son just turned 10 years old and is in the 5th grade. He likes to play Lacrosse and is also going to be starting a musical instrument this year to play (he’s trying to decide among piccolo, trumpet, and saxophone!) A lot of what we do in our free time centers on his activities.

Q: Do you have any particular role models in life?

A: My grandmother was, and still is, a role model for me. She and I both grew up as only children. She grew up during the Depression and very much lived her life with that mindset of saving, and also of doing for her family. She would often go without so that everybody else had. I admire that very much. She was valedictorian of her class in the 1930s and went on to college. Not that many women were going to college at that time. She also had cancer three different times in her life and I admire her strength and perseverance through that as well.

Q: What social causes are close to your heart?

A: There are a lot. #BlackLivesMatter is important to me because my family is interracial. I think a lot about the impact of violence on my son as a black boy. And he’s growing up to be a black man in our society- I think about the repercussions of his identities as they clash with people in society that are racist. So that is something very close to my heart.

Educational inequality is also something I’m often reading and thinking about. I believe strongly in public education, but my son has ADHD and doesn’t always “fit”. Public education is always billed as “the great equalizer” but I think about what we should do if it’s not meeting everyone’s needs, or is not working the way it should. My wife and I are able to mitigate issues in his education because we are privileged enough to be able to be engaged with his school and we’re able to speak the language of the school system. But it takes a lot of engagement from us to manage his needs and I know not all families have the luxury of that for various reasons. So on a broader level, I think about fairness with education.

Q: What are you reading these days?

A: I’m reading a really good book that I may end up incorporating into teaching, called A Path Appears. It looks at how to reduce, violence, poverty, and educational inequality through various kinds of interventions. There are a lot of success stories in it about people who, through working with these various interventions, were able to rise out of poverty, addiction, and other issues. And I don’t mean “rise out” as in that they “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps”. It’s more like stories of interventions that have allowed people to be the best they can be.

I really like to read fiction as well, including youth fiction and adult fiction containing espionage and political intrigue.

Q: If you had two weeks off and unlimited funds, and were told to use those for something that relates to your work, what would you use it for? 

A: I would think about sustainability for the program. I would be writing proposals or talking with people to get more faculty and more opportunity for students. I’d work toward growing the program so that at the end of the two weeks, we’d have double the staff. I really just believe so strongly in the value of people coming together to understand one another, especially in light of all the polarization in our world. It is so important to come together face-to-face, to talk together, and to learn about ourselves as we are in the world. These things are the beginning of answering and solving the world’s major questions and conflicts.

Q: What do you do in your free time?

A: We have a lot of fun together in my house. We all Whip and Nae Nae together! My son LOVES that song- he’ll start singing it and I won’t be able to stop :).