This piece was contributed by Venita Jenkins, UNCW Office of University Relations.
For more than 25 years, Stephen and Kathleen Kelbley have funded scholarships to help students in the Cameron School of Business pursue their dreams.
“I am passionate about developing people,” said Stephen Kelbley.
The Kelbleys’ desire to see students succeed has inspired them to do even more, going beyond traditional scholarship offerings. In the fall of 2021 during Like No Other: The Campaign for UNCW, the couple established the Kelbley Fellows Program to remove barriers to student involvement in engaged, experiential learning.
“We wanted to fund something unique that would supplement traditional scholarships and open student involvement in new learning experiences,” said Kelbley. “We hope the impact from our gift will ease the financial burden of attending college and provide the opportunity for students to pursue areas of interest that would contribute to solving some of our world’s issues.”
The Kelbleys see giving as a way to pay it forward, as both were college scholarship recipients. The two made their first gift to UNCW more than two decades ago and have been investing in Seahawks ever since. The couple is part of the 2021 Clocktower Society and 2021 UNCW Society, which recognize their annual giving commitments, and the Wilmington Society, which recognizes significant lifetime giving to the university.
“We have been so impressed by the strong relationship between UNCW faculty and students, and the number of students who were first in their family to attend college,” Kelbley said.
By investing in the university, they also follow the advice of Kathleen Kelbley’s parents, who advocated working toward their goals while exhibiting understanding and caring for others.
Stephen Kelbley, a native of Tiffin, Ohio, is also paying it forward by passing on his knowledge to the next generation of business leaders.
Getting his start at age 12 with his first business, Steve’s Parakeet Land, Stephen bred birds for several years until he got tired of cleaning the cages. After graduating from Heidelberg University in 1964, he accepted a position with General Electric in a financial management program that involved evening classes and rotating assignments every six months for three years. It also included evening classes in other functional areas of the company, a program he described as an “on-the-job master’s degree.”
“I’m not sure how I landed in the financial area except that I had one semester of an introduction to accounting course in college,” he said. “A number of business owners who employed me gave me independence and challenged me at an early age. When I was young, I watched my dad, who worked two jobs to support our family. I think his example influenced my work ethic, values and drive to succeed.”
Finding ways to set up others for success is now the Kelbleys’ main focus. Stephen Kelbley is a current member of the Cameron School of Business Executive Advisory Board. He wanted to contribute to the future direction of the Cameron School of Business by supporting professorships for summer projects and attracting outstanding faculty who are focused on student development and experiences.
When asked what advice he would give students, he encouraged them not to be afraid to take chances.
“Be honest, apply yourself and don’t just follow the crowd,” he continued. “Learn all you can. Don’t take your success too seriously and have fun!”
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