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Dr. Steve Kelley was named the Reuben B. Robertson Professor, an honor indicative of his prolific career in industry and at NC State. As one of only five named professors in the Forest Biomaterials Department, Dr. Kelley feels like this award holds him accountable as a leader in biomaterials and bioenergy systems research, as well as projects across the university. The application process for this award is extensive, requiring an invitation from the dean to apply, letters of support, and a comprehensive summary of one’s career and achievement. Dr. Kelley remarks that the award is “flattering,” and that going forward in his career, it “raises the bar in terms of expectations.”

Well Rounded

Dr. Kelley has been at NC State for twelve years.  He served as the academic department head for ten of those years. Recently, he went on a one-year sabbatical where he taught, conducted research, and created opportunities for international student exchange. Dr. Kelley has taught a series of classes in Forest Biomaterials, and currently a small lab, and a large enrollment introductory class for SMT. He is a leader in areas such as cellulose polymers, bioenergy, and systems integration and modeling, and his expertise in these fields makes him a vital part of the department.

Prepare for Changing Situations

While born in San Francisco, Dr. Kelley grew up in Nebraska and pursued education at universities across the country. He received a BS in wood science from Oregon State University, a MS in forestry from the University of Wisconsin Madison, and his PhD in physical chemistry from Virginia Tech. When asked why he chose to study multiple subject areas, Dr. Kelley replied that as opposed to the “straight line” career path when of an engineer or chemist,” current students will need a wide variety of technical and personal skills in order to be successful in the future. He believes that “everyone will have many careers” and advises students to develop their writing, presentation skills, and teamwork abilities as well as their engineering fundamentals to be prepared for changing situations.

The Road to NC State

Before coming to NC State  Dr. Kelley had a successful career in several different fields. He began his career at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, Tennessee, a location with roughly 13,000 employees, where he worked on cellulose chemistry. After five years with Eastman he worked at Bend Research, a small membrane company. Dr. Kelley spent 13 years at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory where he worked on bioproducts and bioenergy. His experience in the industry was valuable to his professional development, as he feels that when professors have worked in the industry, it allows them to have a better practical understanding of what they are teaching.

Above all..Improving Students Lives is What it’s all About

about Going forward in his career, he feels like this award will make an impact on the types of projects he works on, and the level of leadership that is expected of him. In professional settings, he believes that being named the Reuben B. Robertson Professor will aid his work on national level committees where this kind of recognition is useful. There are also projects that he is currently a part of on the university level, such as his role as the co-chair of the university sustainability council. This involvement demonstrates Dr. Kelley’s capacity for leadership and his commitment to improving the lives of students. He acknowledges that he takes his leadership roles seriously by continually asking himself, “How do I make everybody better?” Dr. Kelley believes that he will stay at NC State for the foreseeable future because “this is a remarkable campus with its breadth of disciplines,” and “we’re in a great position to attack some of these grand challenges.” He notes that “we’ve got a great program in this department,” and hopes that students will recognize how committed the faculty are to giving them a good education and setting them up for success. This award is a significant honor, and it will surely allow Dr. Kelley to continue his successes in the department and beyond.

By guest blogger Daniel Lucas