5 Questions With FAU First Lady Carolyn Kelly

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1. What is the best part about being a mom?
We have two girls. Carly is 14 going on 21: She always been our “old soul.” I have to remind her to be a kid and have fun occasionally. She’s very much into her studies and will attend FAU High next year and her goal is to work at the Center for Disease Control. She plans to attend medical school. I’m continually amazed at her wisdom, which is way beyond her years. Just this month, I asked her what kind of birthday cake she would like this year. She tells me that she doesn’t need a cake this year, but would rather give a birthday cake to a young girl we know, whose family is having a hard time financially.
When we hosted the FAU gala in April, we were all hanging around at the end of the evening and Carly asked someone to put on a favorite song of ours (that we sing in the car together.) She wanted to sing it with me that night. I was so elated! Of course, later I cried at how fun that experience was with her. I’ll never forget that moment in time.
Stella, 2, has always been a big girl! She was 12.6 lbs. when she was born. But now she’s really blossoming – potty training, playing soccer and talking up a storm.
I feel such joy and excitement when she tackles a new milestone. But I often find myself in tears. Happy tears! They just grow and change so much so quickly.
Last month, Stella had her very first ice cream cone and ate it all by herself. I must have taken 30 pictures. Her timid tongue and the cold sensation quickly turned to chocolate delight and utter mess. I had the absolute best time just watching her discover that ice cream cone.
My girls are so far apart in age but there are still things that we enjoy doing together. One of our favorite things to do is have a dance party. We put the music up real loud and dance around the house together. I usually let my teenager pick the music.
2. Do you feel like you are a mom to the Florida Atlantic University student body?
Yes. I take great pride in their personal accomplishments. And I especially enjoy engaging with them and hearing their stories and seeing their success. Each day, I meet a new student with an incredible story and it makes me proud to have them here at FAU. I also tend to worry about them when serious storms are coming through the area, or when events of concern are going on in the community.
3. What is your ideal way to spend Mother’s Day?
I would love to go out to a picnic at the beach late in the day when it’s not so hot and just hang out with my girls and watch them play on the beach together and chase birds and play in sand. And then we would go get ice cream cones.
4. Tell us about your time with the Coast Guard.
It was a very exciting time to be a civilian in the U.S. Coast Guard. I was responsible for starting up the Natural Resource Damage program in the United States.
I was in a senior level position at a young age and was promoted to Chief ( GS-15) before I was even 30 years old. I ran the national program that was responsible for the adjudication of claims as a result of damages from oil spills.
I was particularly proud to work so closely with the Tribal elders of the Inupiat. I was working on the development of Subsistence Claims for the U.S. And they were a tribal village in the Arc-tic Circle, as far north as you can go, literally. It was very rewarding to be able to develop that relationship, but it was tough going at first. On one trip to Barrow, Alaska, I was asked to partake in a village whaling tradition with other tribal members. It was an honor.
5. Why is marine science your passion?
We’ve always lived near the coast- no more than 1.5 hours away my entire life growing up. I think it started when I spent time at my grandparents’ country home. We’d take a little boat out to fish and then I would dissect the fish and study them for hours. I knew from probably middle school that I wanted to work in the area of natural resources.
After I had my marine science degree, I knew in order to fully understand our natural resources, I needed to understand their value. I then obtained a master’s degree in natural resource econom-ics. At that point in time, I was one of just a handful who had degrees in these two areas.
While I was still working for the Coast Guard, I was offered the position in South Carolina as the Director of the States Coastal Program. This was an exciting opportunity, and it allowed for me to be first female to ever run that agency and to be back in my home state.
And of most importance, it allowed me to be closer to my mom who was sick. I got to spend her last year being close to her in South Carolina. Her last Mother’s Day, she brought me the most beautiful blue hydrangea for my yard. She told me it was blue like my eyes. When she passed away, that day the blue hydrangea was blooming like never before. I plant hydrangea now with my daughters… to remember my mom all over the yard.