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K. Kelly Wise

BA 1955, English
MA 1959, Columbia University

Director, Institute for Recruitment, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA

Kelly Wise has helped countless students achieve their goals over his lengthy career in education—and that might not have happened if his own goals hadn’t changed mid-course.  After serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy, he studied creative writing at Columbia University and earned a master’s degree in contemporary literature. He intended to complete his doctorate after a year of teaching, but fell in love with being a secondary school educator after his first month at Mount Hermon School in Western Massachusetts. He joined the faculty in the English department at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, in 1966, serving as a teacher and administrator there, both as chair of the English Department and dean of the faculty.

His maintained a diverse career while teaching, launching a career as an artist and photographer, writing about photography as a critic for The Boston Globe, and editing books on photography. As he was teaching, however, he felt that the faces he saw in academia were not diverse enough—so when he stepped down as dean of faculty in 1990, he founded and became the executive director of the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers (IRT) at Phillips Academy.

“The IRT advises and sponsors outstanding candidates of color who are completing their undergraduate study or are recent college graduates who wish to seek advanced degrees in arts and sciences, education, and mathematics,” he explains. “I can remember after the first decade wondering if I would ever be able to list more than a handful of doctoral degrees earned by our students. The wow moment came a few years back when that soaring number reached 100. As of this date, 255 of our former students have received their doctorates. We also count at least 450 former students who are teaching, counseling, or administrating in schools across the country.”

Purdue Influences

I entered Purdue planning to earn a degree in engineering. That was in part to please my father. I soon learned that I had little interest in engineering. Fortunately, I gravitated into religion, philosophy, and creative writing. Two professors had immense influence on my career at Purdue: Dr. Eric Clitheroe in religion and philosophy and Dr. Emerson Sutcliffe in English and creative writing. Dr. Clitheroe was an eccentric man and a brilliant, charismatic lecturer; he had a transforming touch with students. My writing career got started at Purdue, when to my surprise at the end of my senior year I won second place in the annual short story contest. Yeah, I know, hardly a “go for it” start!

Purdue Memories

I was a Phi Delt. Each morning during my senior year, I tumbled out of bed, strode the quick block to the Union, studied for a couple of hours in the first floor lounge, which was as quiet as the library, and then took a quick breakfast in the Sweet Shop. I also remember watching basketball games in the old gym. That was before Gene Keady and a string of nationally-ranked teams brought Purdue basketball front and center.

Purdue Now

In working with Dean Thomas Adler, now retired, Dean Irwin Weiser, Drs. Susan Curtis and John Contreni, all of the College of Liberal Arts, I have been impressed by Purdue's avid pursuit of and commitment to IRT students. Eighty-four students have enrolled for graduate study at Purdue since the founding of IRT. Only the University of Michigan, in a consortium of 42 universities, boasts a larger number of enrollees.

Greatest Achievement

Discovering that my personal journey led to teaching, art, and art criticism. I had not taken a photograph—not one—until I was 36. Soon, I was fortunate enough to be exhibiting my work at the Creative Photography Lab at M.I.T., The Fogg Museum at Harvard, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Person I Admire

Mandela, President Clinton, and Pope Francis. Now that's a triumvirate. As the new Pope asserts, we all have clay feet, and humbly he includes himself!

Idea of Perfect Happiness

Being tight with your family. I had a marvelous first marriage; my wife succumbed to cancer in her mid-60s, but enhanced all of her family member’s lives immeasurably. I am blessed with three children and three grand boys who all live within 20 miles of Boston.

What I’m Reading

I just finished Henning Mankell's last mystery. I almost wept when the fabulous Wallander series ended. I read about a book a week, almost entirely fiction. Authors of major influence upon me: Dostoyevsky, Camus, Henry James, Marilynne Robinson, Robert Stone, Virginia Woolf, and Kierkegaard. Recently I have been reading David Foster Wallace and David Mitchell.

Profession I’d Like to Try

I have a wine cellar; food is very important to the Wises. A daughter has a thriving catering business. In my daydreams, I would like to manage a vineyard or be a gourmet chef.