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College of Education

Kirsten Kennedy is recognized nationally for her work in the classroom

Students cite beyond the classroom care and true to life lessons as teaching highlights.


Reading the nominations from her peers and students makes Kirsten Kennedy the clear choice for the 2024 Faculty Outstanding Contributions by a Scholar-Practitioner Award from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). While she currently serves as the associate vice president for the residential experience, she has spent the last eight years as an affiliate faculty member teaching “Student Affairs in Higher Education.” Her students’ high praises are a testament to the care she brings to the classroom. Former student Raechel Blakeney shares that Kennedy’s encouragement pushed her to apply for the program.

“Professor Kennedy showed me that I could be successful in the program, while working full-time at the university,” Blakeney shares. “She has continued to be a mentor, an encourager and a true supporter of my personal, educational and professional endeavors.

While Kennedy was no stranger to the field of student affairs, her father had a distinguished career in the field, she sometimes doubted her student affairs path. Her background in business administration was a non-traditional route to a career in student affairs.

“I’ve learned to show my students that a career in student affairs requires a diverse array of experiences. Most students enter this field because they like helping people, but students also need to navigate competing budget requests, supervision, crisis management and inter-office politics. A caring attitude is what leads people to student affairs, but efficient and effective problem solving is what helps people excel.”

Kennedy strives to provide her students with assignments that reflect a true-to-life job in higher education. Some of her most beloved lessons came from wanting to keep things interesting for her students and herself. One of her signature assignments is a case study where students identify a problem they would like to solve and present a solution to campus administration. Students Lizzie Dunsmore and Jo Minns appreciate a learning opportunity with real world impact.

“This project was a fantastic way for us to research an issue we were passionate about and learn how to problem solve while advocating for student needs,” Dunsmore says. “It is likely that this is the work we will be assigned when we are full-time employees. Professor Kennedy gives us the opportunity to practice our work in a safe environment,” says Minns.

Another favorite assignment, called “Downtrodden University”, gives students the opportunity to balance administrative demands with faculty and student requests while reorganizing a campus budget. Students are split into groups and organized offices according to leadership orientations.

“This was a really cool way for us to experience theory while pretending,” Dunsmore says. “We saw how different leadership types have tangible impacts on a university. We loved the activity so much we named our cohort’s group chat after it!”

Kennedy’s passion for her students goes well beyond the walls of a classroom. She credits her fellow faculty member, Professor Christina Yao with giving her insight into which students may need extra encouragement or some personal interaction time.

“I have to eat lunch and I love coffee, so anytime I can meet a student to do one of those things, it’s a privilege,” Kennedy says.

This attitude is what her students, like Cassie Davis, celebrate. The 2022 master’s cohort chose Kennedy to serve as the faculty speaker at their commencement ceremony.

“Professor Kennedy cultivated a nurturing and supportive environment and even invited our entire class over to her home for a spaghetti dinner,” Davis says. “Her personalized approach left our class feeling cared for and known and made us better professionals and individuals. Her genuine passion for education and improving student’s lives shines; she is a constant source of motivation for myself and many others as we strive for excellence in the field of education. Together, we have witnessed her heartfelt dedication to the academic and professional development of her students.”

Kennedy says one of the best parts of receiving this award was learning of the positive impacts she has had on her students.

“Teaching is what I do to fill my cup,” Kennedy says. “I go into class in the evenings knowing that these students want to hear what I have to say and enjoy hearing about practical experiences that illustrate the assigned readings. It’s truly incredible.”

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