Kelli Palmer: Inclusion, Diversity and Corporate Citizenship

Kelli Palmer
  • Class of: Educ ’07
  • Hometown: Silver Spring, MD
  • Current City: Charlottesville, VA
  • Current Job: Global Head of Inclusion, Diversity and Corporate Citizenship at the CFA Institute
  • Bodo’s Order: Plain bagel with blueberry cream cheese and a sesame seed with heavy honey and light butter

Tell us about your current life.

I work as the global head of Inclusion, Diversity, and Corporate Citizenship at the CFA Institute; my job involves figuring out how we can benefit our stakeholders and our community. I’m on the board of the Charlottesville Climate Collaborative—an organization founded by a UVA alum— as well as the board of the Peabody School. I’m married to a fellow Wahoo and we have four kids ages 18, 5, 3 and 1.

Tell us your UVA story.

My graduate education began at Wake Forest University, but I realized there was a bit of a glass ceiling if you didn’t have a doctorate there so I started looking elsewhere. I was accepted to both Harvard and UVA and chose UVA largely because of Annette Gibbs, who was the first Dean of Women at the University. She saw my hunger and my commitment, but also ways to advance me as a professional.

I simultaneously worked at the Curry School, the Alumni Association and the President’s office while getting my degree from Curry. I conducted research with the Ridley Scholarship Fund on diversity, moved from intern to full hire at the President’s office and eventually earned my doctorate. Now, I have a job that’s fully focused on diversity and inclusion.

Tell us more about your work at the Alumni Association.

I was working with Ridley during a time of major change for the Fund. It just so happened that I ended up running the Black Alumni Weekend while I was there; it took me leveraging every favor anyone had ever owed me but it ended up being incredible, with events staffed by black alumni and affiliates.

What’s your favorite UVA memory?

There’s really nothing quite like wearing the honors of Honor—that feeling of knowing you’re a pre-eminent scholar at one of the most pre-eminent universities in the country. This hits home for me because of my family. Back when my grandmother was attending the University of Maryland, they learned that she was black and her degree was denied to her. And then, at over 100 years old, she was able to be present at my graduation.

What’s something you learned at UVA that you apply to your life now?

The concept of student self-governance sticks out to me. After a background in private institutions, the idea made no sense to me at first, but my time at UVA helped me realize it takes a collective and systemic shift to make change rather than an individual doing it on their own.

What makes you say Wahoowa?

Oh, definitely basketball! I also think of honor and self-governance, and—particularly for black alums—the idea of perseverance that leads to prominence.

What does being a UVA alumna mean to you?

It means continuing to act with honor, and it means carrying that integrity out into the world.

When you think of “UVA Alumni,” what comes to mind?

When it comes to black alumni, I think of vibrancy and I think of tenacity.

How do you stay connected with UVA and other alumni?

Facebook! I see plenty of fellow Hoos that way. Other kids of UVA parents are in school with mine, too. I’ve also returned to Black Alumni Weekend, and it’s incredible that my kids get to be black legacies alongside other black legacies.

Tell us the biggest way in which you hope alumni can help impact UVA.

It’s important that alumni stay attentive to current issues, all across the board. It’s important to pay attention to what you care about.