When Kelly Schwind Wilson applied to college, she thought she’d be a veterinarian. Now a full professor at the Daniels School of Business, her journey took a dramatically different path.
“I have a deep love for animals,” Wilson remarks. “But I realized it wasn’t for me. When I started at Michigan, I was undeclared.”
Wilson grappled with uncertainty of what to study when she landed in the regal halls of the University of Michigan. Upon taking introductory classes, she discovered a passion for psychology.
“When I discovered psychology, I fell in love with it. I called my parents to say I had it all figured out, and my dad said, ‘What are you going to do with an undergrad degree in psychology … you have to go to grad school to use it!” recounts Wilson.
Weighing how she could use her passion for psychology post-graduation, Wilson decided to supplement her studies with a degree in communication. “The communications piece was my way to get a job right out of college and get some business experience, and the psychology side was what I really, really enjoyed the most,” Wilson says.
Wilson’s double degree in psychology and communication studies led her to spend several years in the business world, where she gained experience in a few different business disciplines. After spending time in the workforce, she returned to higher education and pursued a PhD in Business Administration with a minor in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Michigan State University. Upon receiving her doctorate, Wilson began applying for positions in higher education, ultimately accepting an offer from Purdue.
“My husband and I wanted to start a family and be close to home in the Midwest, and it was also my dream to stay in the Big Ten. Purdue had a job, I applied, and I feel really fortunate to have gotten the job offer.”
Wilson felt the pressure to achieve excellence from the beginning. As an assistant professor without tenure, she found it challenging to balance teaching with high expectations for research. “You have this clock that’s ticking, and you have to get as much research out as possible,” she says. “I really had to balance it to the point of doing good to great in the classroom, but then having enough time to do research to survive in the career.”
In addition to the stress of producing excellent research and teaching multiple classes, Wilson experienced challenges as a woman in higher education. In graduate school and her early professional years, she encountered life working in a male-dominated field. “Grad school was five years, and there weren’t many women. I think there were two women faculty members in the department when I started my program,” Wilson shares.
Even in male-dominated spaces, Wilson’s determination to succeed and high work ethic allowed her to flourish. As a young professional, she relied upon a network of women she could learn from and relate with. “We shared stories, and usually, we weren’t alone. We could listen and support or help each other.” She also attributes the broader higher education community as playing a significant role in her story. “I love all of my people. I’ve had great leaders and colleagues who have supported me and my research and advocated for my promotions. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Having experienced the challenges of being a woman in her field, Wilson supports young women in higher education. “I felt like a minority, and I think things are quickly changing, which is awesome,” she says. “One of my greatest passions is mentoring our PhD students and other students that I have at any level that come through my classes.”
As she mentors women, Wilson emphasizes the importance of getting students involved early with research opportunities. “They need publications and a pipeline of research projects, so I include them from day one. They’re involved in every aspect, so they can learn every step of the process, be a coauthor on the paper, and receive credit,” she says. Wilson also involves her mentees in research and provides personal support beyond the classroom. “I’m open and there for my students if they ever have concerns, questions, or want to come confidentially and tell me their concerns. I try to listen, offer advice when needed and make sure they feel safe.”
Research was a significant factor in Wilson’s decision to become a professor. An expert in the work-nonwork interface and leadership, Schwind Wilson’s post-undergraduate work experience fueled many of her current research endeavors as she observed dynamics within the workplace.
“When I was working, I had three different bosses in my first year and a half. I noticed how each of those working relationships was very different or unique, which got me super curious about leadership and interpersonal relationships at work.”
Wilson believes there are many ways organizations can improve the work environment, stimulate productivity, and encourage a healthy work-family balance. She has focused much of her research on investigating the impact of dyadic relationships in the workplace.
“In terms of my research in the work-family space, I’ve studied dual-earner couples in which both partners are working and also juggling home and other nonwork pursuits,” she says. “I get really excited about this type of research! While recruiting participants and gathering rich data is challenging, I’m really interested in examining how employees and their family members and coworkers can thrive.”
Wilson’s research on work-family balance had practical implications for her own family, too. “My husband gave up his career when we moved to Indiana, and he stayed home with the girls when they were infants. His sacrifice allowed me to focus on my career and what I needed to get done at Purdue,” she says.
As Wilson has pursued meaningful relationships with students, led fascinating research initiatives, and earned recognition as a Poets & Quants Top 50 Undergraduate Business Professor, she emphasizes that community and the Daniels School’s commitment to growth set Purdue apart.
“I just really enjoy my colleagues and students. I’ve always felt like someone would have my back. I feel safe and supported here at Purdue, and that’s something I’ve always looked for,” says Wilson, adding that, “the school is growing in every area, and I’m thrilled for new faculty and students to join us. That’s what really stands out to me; there’s excitement around what we are already doing here as well as energy surrounding big changes for the future.”