Mission and Values > Programs > Vincentian Mission Institute > Current VMI Cohort > Susan Barrett-Kelley

Susan Barrett-Kelley


In retrospect, contrast is one of my life themes.  I was born in a very small, rural town in Ohio. Between my mother’s role as the town kindergarten teacher and my father’s role as the high school football coach, my family knew everyone.  Social life was limited in my small high school. I always attributed that as a result of my mother’s good memory of everyone’s most unfortunate childhood adventures and that my father’s principle that extra laps built character. I selected a very large state university as an undergraduate, attracted by the prospect of being one of many vs. one of few. I enjoyed the opportunity to forge my own path.
My first career was an educator – both kindergarten and second grade. The contrast was one of perception and reality. To some, the perception was that teaching K-3 was fairly easy, as you were probably smarter than the students and the material wasn’t challenging. My reality was far different. Even today, I believe that the most responsibility I ever had was as a 23 year old with a class of wide eyed 5 year olds. Their families trusted me with the most precious thing in their lives for 35 hours a week, with hopes that their children learn, that they come to love learning, and could keep community with others. It was hard. There is something to the saying that everything we need to know we learn in kindergarten.
My departure for the corporate world was somewhat of an unintended consequence. Still, I spent the next 29 years on a grand adventure. One could say that I climbed the ladder, but it wasn’t what I set out to do. I learned so much about myself and about change in those years.  My employer was bought, sold, spun off, merged and bought again. I learned the contrast between a one line headline in the news and the complexity of all the affected lives behind it. Along the way, I got an MBA and moved to Chicago.
Late in my career, I went back to school at Northwestern for another master’s. The experience was like finding a home. I loved the community, the challenge and the change in me. I’d never previously thought about working in higher education until then, but it became my goal. Five years later I started at DePaul.

Why DePaul?

DePaul is a special place. As a community, we consistently work at our mission. I find it motivating that the mission is not posted on the walls, but visible in the work and the spirit of the people.  That’s different than previous places I’ve worked, where the mission was proudly posted on the wall but seldom seen in the culture. We may not always get it right, but I sincerely feel that we always try.

Why VMI?

It amazes me that someone who was born into a peasant family in France over 400 years ago inspires the deep dedication to his work around the world today. It provokes many questions for me. Who was Vincent DePaul? What inspired him? What does it mean to be a Vincentian today? How is being a Vincentian University similar to or different from other Catholic universities? I am confident that VMI will help me discover new perspectives from these questions.
In addition to new insights, I hope that I leave VMI as a better person. The learning will be great, but the impact will be through change. And the change will start with me.