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Heading into year five as a Board member

January 19, 2023 - Beth Brauer

Alumnus Spotlight: Kelly Charron Tebay (IR ’08)

Kelly Charron Tebay attended James Madison College from 2005-2008, majoring in international relations with a specialization in Muslim Studies. She served on the Madison Diversity Initiative, formerly known as MADI, studied in Egypt and, in 2011, earned her master’s degree in law enforcement intelligence and analysis in the College of Social Science. In 2018, Tebay was elected to an eight-year term on the MSU Board of Trustees.

Kelly Tebay standing by an MSU lantern

Michigan State University’s Board of Trustees is comprised of eight people who are elected by voters in the state of Michigan, apart from premature vacancies that are then filled by gubernatorial appointment. All Board positions are unpaid and require a significant time commitment beyond the almost monthly Board meetings, meeting with students and attending events across campus.

Six of the eight members are women, and two of the eight are James Madison College alumni. Kelly Charron Tebay (IR ’08), a two-time alumna of the university, was elected to the Board for an eight-year term that began Jan. 1, 2019.

Four years in, Tebay continues to search for balance between what she calls her “two full-time jobs.” As the senior director of corporate relations for United Way, she still is a regular presence on campus, attending events and meeting with students and other stakeholders at least once a week.

Earlier this month, I had the good fortune to meet Tebay on Zoom (and then literally bump into her the following week at the MLK Jr. Unity Dinner at the Kellogg Center) to learn about her experiences as a Madison student and gain some perspective about the responsibilities that come with a Board of Trustee position.

Several students posed in the hallway of a residence hall, wearing matching Ozone shirts
Kelly Tebay (far left front) and several friends from her floor in North Case Hall during the 2005-06 academic year. Photo courtesy of K. Tebay.

What was it about MSU and James Madison College that appealed to you when you were applying to colleges?

I knew from a young age I wanted to go to MSU, so I was pretty set on attending Michigan State. What drew me to JMC was the residential college, having a small community within a large community.

In high school, I loved social studies classes. Everything I could take, I took. I’ve always been interested in why people do what they do.

You studied abroad in Egypt. How long were you there, and how did you become interested in Muslim Studies and learning Arabic?

Following 9/11, I became very interested in policies around the Middle East. Any professor who taught classes on the Middle East and Israel, I registered! I spent a full summer semester studying in Cairo at American University where my classes were in Arabic and English.

What do you remember about your classes and professors that had the most impact on your sense of civic responsibility and pursuit for equity and justice?

Reading Alexis de Tocqueville really opened my eyes. I really liked my first year when we got to see all the different majors. Both Professor Borcila and Professor Tremonte chose such unique readings. They really stood out to me.

I think I took every class Professor Yael Aronoff taught. She really pushed boundaries and pushed you to think outside what you think is right by challenging us to think about how our leaders think. I wasn’t necessarily vocal in class, but I always went to office hours. She helped me find my voice, and I’ve always admired and respected her for that. I felt like she saw the type of person I was.

Several students pose atop Mt. Sinai in Egypt
Kelly Tebay (front center) poses on top of Mount Sinai in Egypt with several members of her cohort during their 2008 summer education abroad. Photo courtesy of K. Tebay. 

How have the last four years as a trustee challenged your assumptions and expectations of what it means to be a Board of Trustee member?

It’s been a challenging four years. There had once been this status quo approach to governance before Brianna and I ran, and now we have a lot of different board members who want to be more involved and want to see some of the changes that people want to see.

Discovering how to implement strategic change without getting too in the weeds and without inserting ourselves in the day-to-day governance, is a process. We are shifting into a place of conversation between the Board and administration, where I see the Board as a thought partner, rather than being agreeable to or disagreeing with what is presented. And there are some growing pains because we are learning how to have a conversation and how to think about the relationship differently.

What advice do you have for your fellow JMC alum and newly elected board member Dennis Denno (JMCD ’92)?

Continually be curious. Ask questions. That’s what we are supposed to be doing. We will never grow if we don’t — we learned that from Madison.