Faculty Feature: Meet Kimberly Pettaway Willis
Kimberly Pettaway Willis is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management. She is teaching PRT 478: Sustainable Sport Facility Management and two sections of PRT 286: Writing and Speaking in Sports Organizations.
An Interview with Kimberly
Where were you born? Where have you lived?
I was born and reared in Tarboro, North Carolina. I’ve lived in North Carolina, Florida and Washington.
Did you grow up playing sports?
I was a tomboy and grew up playing softball (3rd base and ShortStop), ran track (100m, 200m, 4x100m and 4x200m) and was Captain of the Tarboro High School cheer team. I also played alto saxophone and baritone saxophone in the band, so I would go from cheering to marching in the band for halftime then back to cheering. I was always a Tar Heel fan (sorry everyone!) and loved any sports team my father loved.
How did you decide to go to “over there” (UNC) to study exercise and sport science?
I loved UNC as a kid and wanted to major in Exercise and Sport Science (ExSS). I really wanted to work in sports, but At that time, there was not a Sport Management program so ExSS was the best fit for me.
EXTRA! EXTRA! Tell us all about it.
I am a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority which is based on the principles of sisterhood, scholarship, and service. I am #21 and my line name is “EXTRA! EXTRA!” because there is so much to my story. From the cancer devotional I co-authored with my aunt to the life experiences I have as an international sports marketing and sports media professor along with being a member of Off The Field Players’ Wives Association (NFL), my sorority sisters understood I had a LOT going on, hence “EXTRA! EXTRA!”
What led you to Florida to pursue a master’s in sport management?
After graduating from UNC, I wanted to major in Sports Management. Dr. E. Newton Jackson was very inspirational in getting me to Florida State University. I spoke to him on numerous occasions and after my parents and I visited, I knew I wanted to get my master’s from FSU.
What drew you to pursue your doctorate?
I was chosen as the first Minority Aeropostale’ Sports Marketing Intern for the Mid-American Conference. I was able to work with the Marketing Director for the MAC and with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The internship was for 6 months and I was torn between Cleveland State for law school or Florida State for my doctorate. I realized I didn’t want to continue on the path of Sports Marketing at that time. Although I had more education and experience than a male in the field, he was going to be offered more or about the same if we both took a position. That’s when I realized I needed to pursue my doctorate and gain as much knowledge in the field if I wanted to make an impact and be an inspiration to other women in this industry.
Who most inspired you to make an impact?
My grandmother was and continues to be my inspiration to strive for excellence. She died in 2017 and I created a scholarship in her honor through my foundation, The Pettaway & Willis Foundation. When I go back home to visit and see how hard it is and continues to be for some, therefore my foundation strives to make a positive difference in the community by focusing on education and empowering youth from various backgrounds. My grandmother was a giving woman and I strive to be the same. My parents always told me to FOCUS and work hard. I’ve taken my parents and grandmother’s advice and strive to be a positive influence in the lives of our youth and others.
How did you become an International Professor?
I received my Ph.D. two months after my husband was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks taking me straight into the world of being an NFL wife, so I didn’t teach immediately. Once he retired and things settled down, I taught at the University of Washington in the Masters of Intercollegiate Athletics Leadership program and I applied to the position of International Professor/Specialist. My first trip to Dubai was in 2016 and I taught Sports Marketing to the heads of the Futbol Associations. My next assignment was in 2018 and I was able to teach Sports Media. I have a translator when I go abroad and everyone is amazing. My students are great and some still communicate with me via social media. The only difficult thing was being away from my twins and family (especially the time difference and trying to catch them before they went to sleep or before they left for school).
You are currently pursing an Executive MBA and created Cor’Rae Cosmetics. How do you do all that you do?
A lot of prayer, hard work, family support, and restless/sleepless nights keep me going. I am doing this for my children. I want them to see there is no limit to what you can do. Pursuing my Executive MBA from Kenan-Flagler has been demanding and rewarding. I will graduate in October 2022! I am learning so much and I am incorporating everything I am learning in the program to what I’ve known in sports. My focus will be Strategic Leadership (analyzing motivation of employees, organizations, etc). I am about to do a 20-30 page marketing analysis for my EMBA on Cor’Rae Cosmetics. The name is a combination of our twins’ middle names. I wanted to do something different and fun with my daughter, and it will be something she can continue to learn from.
I have also been able to use snippets from my dissertation of analyzing student-athletes’ motivation to comprehend motivation of others in various organizations. Understanding the Expectancy Theory of Motivation and using it from my dissertation helps me understand why companies are motivated to be sustainable, why employees are motivated (or lack motivation), and more. There are many avenues and paths I will take with an EMBA and my Ph.D.
What can you tell us about your family?
I have 13-year old twins are 13 (son and daughter) and I am the shortest in the family. My husband, Ray, is 6’6.5. He retired from NFL OT and played for the legendary Bobby Bowden at FSU before being drafted to the NFL.
What advice do you have for students interested in Sport Management?
This is a great time to get into this field of study. There are many opportunities in the industry and students should take advantage of this. Talk to your professors, do internships, and do your research. There is Sport Law, Sport Marketing, Sport Finance, Sport Facility Management, and more. Use the tools your professors are giving you and don’t be afraid to take risks and try things outside of the box. I took risks and tried new things (FSU, Dubai, Cosmetics, MBA, etc). Anything worth having will take sacrifice and commitment.
Willis was one of 25 women chosen to attend the Oxford Round Table in England and be a panelist for women in leadership. She was also recognized by Continental Who’s Who as Pinnacle Professional.