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Kathy Calvin

BS 1971, Speech Pathology/Audiology
HDR 2013, Social Sciences 

Chief Executive Officer, United Nations Foundation, Washington, DC

How do you go from babysitting to leading Girl Up, a global initiative to ensure that adolescent girls are educated, healthy, and safe? From serving at McDonald’s to becoming one of Newsweek’s “150 Women Who Rock the World” in 2011? Ask Kathy Calvin, President and CEO of the United Nations Foundation and recipient of an Honorary Doctorate in Social Sciences from Purdue in May.

She’d describe a winding path through several fields: Washington, D.C. press secretary, editorial administration at a major news magazine, media relations consultant, tech industry communications, and public service at the UN Foundation. What hasn’t changed is Calvin’s interest in meeting the needs of others, especially women and girls, and the ability to communicate what needs to be done, springing into action as a catalyst for change. And she’s had some pretty motivating role models to inspire her.

“In 2009, I was part of a small group of people who met privately with Nelson Mandela and his wife Graça Machel in the game reserve of Sir Richard Branson,” she recalls. “Being in the presence of ‘Madiba,’ as the South Africans call him, was like being in the presence of a saint. His kind eyes, his sweet smile, his soft and gentle voice were a reminder of the strong man who withstood eighteen years on Robben Island without bitterness or anger. I return to that moment often for inspiration.”

Purdue Influences

Many people and experiences at Purdue influenced me, including the smart and strong counsel of the head of the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology [now Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences], who helped me understand that I needed to find another path in life. Others include Robert F. Kennedy’s visit to campus during his brief 1968 presidential campaign, rushing the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, running the (losing) campaign of student body president, and participating in the anti-war movement.

Purdue Memories

Block P, ice cream from the Purdue Creamery, Grand Prix weekend 

Purdue Now

Things that make Purdue meaningful to me now include global research and policy, its social impact, and its new leadership.

Greatest Achievement

My greatest achievements have been to keep growing and learning, going global, and helping put the issue of girls on the global agenda.

Living Person I Admire

Melinda Gates, for her forthright and proactive support of family planning. 

Idea of Perfect Happiness

On the back of our motorcycle, winding on back roads. 

What I’m Reading

Last Stand: Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet, by Todd Wilkinson

Profession I’d Like to Try


We’re not the only ones excited about Kathy Calvin’s work at the United Nations Foundation. To read even more about her life and career, enjoy this recent profile of Calvin in the Purdue Alumnus.

Photo by Stuart Ramson/UN Foundation