Kathy Wilson HumphreyPresident Carlow University Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Appointed by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System Sector Representation: Education Current term ends December 31, 2023
As president of Pittsburgh’s Carlow University, Kathy Wilson Humphrey revels in the achievements of her students, particularly those students for whom attending college was, for one reason or another, not a certainty. “I have a great compassion for that population because I know what it is,” she says.
In fact, just getting to college was a big deal for her. Humphrey was a Pell Grant recipient and is the tenth of 12 children. Her parents migrated from the Deep South to the Midwest in search of opportunities that might perhaps have been out of reach for them but possible for the next generation. Humphrey and her siblings—a tight group—are living proof that her parents’ strategy and their own determination worked.
Humphrey’s path to earning a PhD in higher ed from Saint Louis University (SLU) and to becoming Carlow’s president was taken one step at a time, sometimes without a guide, holding tightly to the faith that she could achieve her aims. By the time she was writing her dissertation, she was also working full-time as the vice president for student development at SLU, raising two children, and running a consulting business on the side with her husband.
When asked if she knew she would someday be a university president, she doesn’t hold back: “Never in my wildest dreams—I’m only three generations away from slavery. My siblings were in the thick of Jim Crow. There's no reason in the world that I should be sitting in this office with my background.” And yet, through hard work, determination, faith in God, support from her family and mentors, and a solid dose of what she calls “hunger,” that’s exactly where she is today, the president of Carlow University, a co-ed, Catholic institution that encourages its 2,000 students to embrace the core values of “mercy, hospitality, service, discovery, and the respect for all of creation.”
Humphrey knows what can be achieved with education and how these achievements filter out, lifting the circumstances of not just individuals, but whole families and, in some cases, their communities in turn.
“When you help individuals,” she says, speaking of the role of Carlow and other universities like it, “you change generations. Students don't get a degree just for themselves, not at a school like Carlow. They’re getting a degree so they can make their communities better.”
Making her community better and extending that reach as far as she can is one reason Humphrey joined the Cleveland Fed’s Pittsburgh Branch board of directors in 2021. “I have really enjoyed hearing from the economists about how we're making decisions about what the region and country need to do financially,” she says. “It's been a privilege to be a part of these discussions and to contribute viewpoints from my industry.”
It's clear that Humphrey’s work on the board demonstrates the adage she lives by: “Start first with your own family, then move to your community, and then go out and make a difference in the wider world.”