Service, education and parenthood guide IU Northwest alumna
Indiana University Northwest alumna Bridgette Kelly believes in bringing her full self to every step of her career. As the managing director of diverse learners at Steel City Academy charter school in Gary, her openness about her parenting challenges and dedication to service to her country help her model the concept of lifelong learning to those around her.
Kelly’s educational journey started in physical education at Chicago State University in 2004. Since then, she has also received two master’s degrees — one from IU Northwest, the other from California University of Pennsylvania. She is currently enrolled in IU Bloomington’s Director of Exceptional Needs Licensure program, and she’s not done yet. She will be joining IU Bloomington’s 2024 cohort to pursue an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership.
Kelly applies the specialized skills she learned in her degree and licensure programs in her day-to-day role, which can include anything from teaching a class to writing an individualized education program for a struggling student.
But her experience as a mother instilled the strongest commitment to special education. Her daughter Rylie, now age seven, was diagnosed with a rare genetic X-chromosome disorder at the age of two, which has presented challenges and put priorities into perspective.
“Kids don't know that they have differences,” Kelly said. “When you have a kid that doesn't know how difficult it may be for them at some point, that gives you a breath of fresh air of their innocence.
“Working with students that have exceptionalities — I treat those kids like my daughter. That’s the lens in which I approach my work. She's the reason why I take this special education position super seriously. She shows me that anybody can learn, it's just finding out how they learn and loading them up on that learning preference.”
Kelly says one of the most important parts of her job is acting as a “hype squad” for her students and being “in the thick of it” with them as they overcome obstacles. It’s the same way the IU Northwest professors who pushed her to grow have now become her support system and cheerleaders.
After hearing feedback on the first paper Kelly wrote for a class with Associate Professor of Education Anita Benna, she thought she would fail the course. Looking back, Kelly appreciates Benna’s persistence in pushing her to improve her research writing. Years later, Kelly was honored to work under Benna this summer by volunteering for IU Northwest’s Kids College.
“When it comes full circle, it's a really cool experience. I’m going to need the team I've been building as I enter into this doctoral program,” Kelly said. “... I’ve got some people behind me, and I just want to make them proud.”
“Life just brings you in contact with people really strategically” and going to college is all about building relationships, she said. “Get the professors in your pocket — build relationships, build rapport, because they're going to be there for you.”
As her education network grows, Kelly is seeing another focus of her working career come to an end as she approaches retirement from military service. She says the nearly 20 years of service in the National Guard, “is probably the one thing that I attribute all of what I'm doing now. It taught me about the limits I can push myself to, the importance of relationships, the rapport as a team.”
Kelly learned the importance of choosing to do something bigger than herself in the military and carries that principle into her current role.
“I choose to be in education,” Kelly said. “I don't have a choice to decide that I don't want to work hard today. In the Army, you don't — it's drilled in you that when you slack off it impacts those around you.”
Kelly sees the whole Northwest Indiana region as that focus of impact now.
“It’s not my original home, but it’s where I started my career,” Kelly said. “Once I moved over here, everything started happening. I have a stake in (the community). I always think that different perspectives are needed. Sometimes you need people that aren't from the area, don't know how it used to be.”
Whether it’s interactions with parents of Steel City Academy students, giving back to the community through Senior University with IU Northwest’s Center for Urban and Regional Excellence or giving the class of 2021 Commencement speech, Kelly says authenticity is key.
“I can’t save the day, but I can be authentic.”