Making Our Mark

Christine Kelly ’74

Christine Kelly '74

Christine Kelly ’74 majored in biology at Union College before earning an M.S. in computer science from Rochester Institute of Technology. Now retired, she has enjoyed a varied career in information technology. Christine was lead scientist for the Mitre Corporation at Johnson Space Center; deputy CIO of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; and project manager for ESRI, the globally leading geographic information systems software company. She moved around a fair amount since her husband, now also retired, is a cancer researcher. Christine sometimes tells people, “I’m probably the only person they know who has done brain surgery and rocket science.” She conducted brain surgery on toads during her time as a Fulbright Scholar at the Free University of Berlin and worked with rocket scientists at Johnson Space Center, where she prototyped AI systems for the Space Station. A certified Project Management Professional, during her career she was a member of the Association of Computing Machinery. While involved with NASA, she was a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and of the AIAA Artificial Intelligence Technical Committee. Several of Christine’s papers have been included in peer-reviewed journals, including one that received a Best Paper award. These days, she volunteers her time as president of the Friends of Mitchell Park (a charitable organization in Greenport, N.Y.), and as webmaster for several not-for-profit organizations. Christine’s favorite hobby is birding – she and her husband have traveled the world to find as many birds as they can. But most importantly, she is a grandmother caring for her infant grandson during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?

There is no doubt that being a woman has caused more difficulty in getting things done, more in my professional life than in my volunteer life. The people who are receiving help don’t discriminate as much, free technical support that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars is always welcome. Frequently the only woman in the room in a male-dominated profession, it became tiresome being asked to get coffee for everyone. Eventually, however, showing that I just ignored these obstacles and was the one person who could always get the job done, especially when it was most important, was the most rewarding aspect. As a volunteer, helping organizations that work to better the community and seeing the results of those efforts has been most rewarding.

Who inspired/inspires you, both professionally and personally?

I was fortunate to have worked with and for some incredible and inspiring people, men and women. Great leaders and inspiring mentors can be found everywhere. In turn, I hope I was able to pass on that help to those who worked for me.

What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?

Ignore those who demean you for being a woman, just be the best you can be and do all you can. In the end, the person who gets things done is the one who everyone pays attention to. So get things done.

What was your most formative experience at Union?

No question, my involvement in the international studies programs has made a life-long mark on me. After completing my language requirement in French, my advisor recommended that I take German, so I could read key technical papers written in German. Thank you, Professor Bick! That led me to a term abroad in Vienna (still my favorite city in the world), and it qualified me to apply to be an exchange student to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. As I understand it, that program no longer exists. However, the late Professor William Martin of the Chemistry Department championed this program. I was fortunate to spend my junior year in Zurich as an exchange student. Upon returning to Union for my senior year, Professor Martin helped me apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to study with a professor who offered me a lab at the Free University of Berlin. I was fortunate to be awarded that honor, which would not have been possible without the help of Professor Martin. I enjoy a lifelong love of international travel and remain fluent in German. And I have even spent months living in France to brush up my French that I completed as a freshman at Union. I have worked for Swiss and German companies, and because I could speak German (which quite surprised my German colleagues, that an American could speak a foreign language), I spent months working in their European headquarters. The pandemic has put a (I hope temporary) halt to my travels, but my husband and I usually spend several months a year on the road.