By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart

Meet Dr. Penny Kelly: Vice President for Academic Affairs

Photo Credit: Matt Ebbers

What drives you professionally and personally? “Professionally, I have always been driven to do the right thing and to make a difference through my role. In my current role at SUNY Broome, I always revert to thinking about the difference and impact that the College made in my life when I was a young transfer student. I came from a very small high school and went away to a four-year college. My college experience was OK, but ultimately, it wasn’t a good fit for me. Having a community college less than 50 miles from my home allowed me to start in the Spring semester and regroup. 

SUNY Broome built up my confidence when I needed it the most. I hope to provide a similar experience for all of our students, whether they are at the top of their class or need to regain their academic confidence after high school or their time in the workforce. Confidence and a feeling of accomplishment do wonders for student success. 

Personally, I’m driven by finding and maintaining balance. Particularly when I was younger, I always focused on making sure that I could balance having time with my daughters, being with my family, and having a fulfilling professional life. Every time that I was offered a promotion throughout my career, I would be in a dilemma for weeks, wondering what the right balance would be to ensure that I would be able to make enough time for my girls, while still being able to do a really good job in the position that I was asked to accept. 

All that worrying ended up not being worth it. I think that it has worked well. I was able to build the professional career that I hoped for while still having a close relationship with my family. 

Now, I get the opportunity to watch my two daughters as they navigate their professional careers with motherhood, and they are doing so well! They are both very accomplished and self-confident women who are creating a beautiful balance in their family lives. Watching them makes me feel great!”


What can we do to encourage and support fellow women as they pursue their education and careers? My first job was teaching accounting courses at a two-year proprietary college. Most of my students were women who were much older than I was. They had already had experiences working and raising children. These women were adamant that they couldn’t complete my accounting course, and when I asked them why, they all responded that they had been told very early on in their academic lives that they were terrible at math. If they were terrible at math, they would never be able to pass an accounting class. Before we even tackled the procedural side of accounting, I needed to build their confidence so that they would be willing to try. 

I believe in the power of a network, and interestingly this goes back to a lot of my graduate research. Whether that network is a group of students in a class or a network of professional mentors, I’ve found it to be better to have a variety of people supporting you than to limit yourself to a one-to-one mentor/mentee relationship. I also believe that mentors don’t just need to be women. I’ve benefited from having both men and women support me throughout my career, and I encourage everyone to stay open to all opportunities for guidance. My goal is to create an environment that understands the importance of flexibility and offers opportunities to develop connections.

It’s also not always the older women who build up the younger women. I’m constantly learning from the women I work with, and, of course, I learn from my girls. As they get older, we are supporting and encouraging each other, as opposed to me just encouraging them as their mother. 

My daughters were in high school when I was contemplating pursuing my doctoral degree. I was so excited, but it was also the biggest dilemma of my life because I would need to be away, and the program would cut into our family time. The girls recognized my worries and wrote beautiful letters encouraging me to do the program. They shared how proud they were of me and how we would make the most of our time together. Those letters gave me the confidence that I needed. Now, whenever I am in the midst of a big dilemma, I pull out those letters and re-read their kind words. 


Who is a public figure (either historical or present day) that has inspired you? What were/are her contributions and achievements? “This is not meant to be political in any way, but I find the dilemmas that have accompanied Hillary Clinton’s life to be very fascinating. I like that there were a lot of imperfections. We are all imperfect, and I believe that it is essential to admit that. But through all her imperfections, she has shown an incredible amount of strength and really opened up the door for women to know that there is a possibility for more. 

I wouldn’t say that I agree with everything that she has done, but I will admit that I was struck by her determination throughout her decades of adversity. At the end of the day, when she goes home, she is just a mother to her daughter. Then, she has to return and face the world with strength. 


What does it mean to you to be celebrated as a remarkable woman? “It’s truly an honor to be recognized for my commitment to the College. Sometimes, I need to make tough decisions, but I hope that people recognize and respect that I am here for the right reasons and am trying to do the right thing every day. I truly do believe in the mission of the College and in our students’ ability to be successful. 

I often struggle with recognition because, deep down, I am a naturally shy and humble person. I was so incredibly shy as a little girl that my father would have to introduce me with my next oldest sister when someone asked my name. I was “Peggy and Penny” until I was about ten years old. So while part of me gets nervous with any recognition, the other part of me profoundly appreciates being noticed.”

Name another remarkable woman of SUNY Broome who inspires you. “I work with an incredible core group of women in my Academic Leadership team. Rhoda Neal, Dani Berchtold, Danielle Britton, Robin Petrus, Beth Richards, Stephanie Malmberg, Christine Martey-Ochola, and Kim Mclain. They inspire me daily!”

Celebrating Women's History Month


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