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Crafting Environments for Human Interaction

During his undergraduate journey centered on geography and community & regional planning, Kai Kelley Jr. developed a keen interest in crafting environments conducive to human interaction. This allowed him to discover family science, which led him to NC State for graduate school. In May 2022, he graduated with a master’s degree in youth, family, & community sciences (now the master’s in agricultural education and human sciences).

Reflecting on his undergraduate years, Kelley acknowledges, “Studying these disciplines exposed me to the intricate dynamics and cultural impacts of place-making through the lens of local and regional governance.” This sparked his curiosity about the individuals within these frameworks and their evolution in forming personal and familial identities within communities. 

During his graduate studies at NC State, Kelley reflects, “Choosing to pursue advanced education during the peak of the global pandemic and societal unrest allowed me to deeply ponder the underlying reasons for my desired work with youth and families. I developed a strong commitment to ethically and equitably engaging with youth through the application of family and community science theories. My graduate studies also provided opportunities to explore intersections of this work with political advocacy, family policy analysis, program evaluation, and journalism.”

Kelley currently serves as the Assistant Director for Duke’s Career Center, where his primary responsibilities include designing and delivering training, content, resources, and events focusing on the entertainment industry. He utilizes e-learning effectively to educate, empower, and support students in their professional development journey, aligning with Duke Career Center’s mission to guide students and alumni across academic disciplines in self-awareness, decision-making, and career readiness processes.

Kelley with co-workers from the Duke Career Center

When asked about the importance and impact of his work, Kelley replies, “My work’s importance rests on the necessity of ensuring students can communicate interests, values, and identify and communicate the relevancy of newly developed skill sets to craft the beginnings to an exciting future after Duke”.

Looking back on his time at NC State, Kelley remarks on some individuals who stood out and helped him along the way. “Annie Hardison-Moody as my program academic advisor was a great supporter of my goals and ambitions with completion of this degree and exploring its use in additional areas of graduate study. Maru Gonzalez fostered an innovative and exciting professional learning experience that seamlessly married curriculum development, youth engagement, and media arts in a way that allowed for an exciting culmination to my YFCS program experience”. 

He credits his inspiration in pursuing this field to the actual parents, youth, and families that he engaged with to complete various YFCS cumulative course projects. He goes on to say, “It’s through their eyes that I was able to see theories alive and at work. It’s to them that I’m most grateful for sharing their stories and perspectives on community and family”.

Looking towards the future, Kelley hopes to continue to work in higher education focusing on how to best support and prepare students for life within and beyond their institution of higher learning. He furthers, “Taking this path has been a true labor of love. The love of seeing youth and young adults tackle the grandeur of questions regarding purpose, passion, and the pursuit of meaning through the opportunities afforded via higher education has made my professional journey worthwhile. It plays the greatest part in why I stay committed to this work, championing the success of students as they sojourn from engaged learners to thoughtful contributors in shared community”.