Meet a Tiger: Ale Kennedy
One might say Alejendra (Ale) Kennedy was destined to work for a university. She spent her formative years in Charlottesville, Virginia, where her father, Hernan Sabio, was a physician and professor at the University of Virginia. Her mother Elsa raised seven children, of which Kennedy was number three. She spent her youth playing on lawns between neoclassical buildings designed by Thomas Jefferson and taking advantage of all the opportunities afforded to the kids in the area, like going to the museums, planetarium and attending football games.
Most of all, she remembers the freedom of jumping on her bike and flying wherever she wanted, up and down the streets of UVA.
“That’s probably my fondest memory while living in Charlottesville,” said Kennedy, the associate chief human resource officer for Clemson University’s HR services. “Every weekend, riding from our neighborhood to and around the campus. We just loved it.”
Her love of propelling herself carried over into high school and beyond. She wasn’t coordinated or graceful, she laughed, so she joined the track team and became a runner. Her father was also an avid runner, and she loved to go to races with him. When she was 16 he signed up for a road race at Clemson. Naturally, she came with him. The race ended at the Esso Club, and afterward they explored the campus together.
She followed that love and attended Clemson after high school, graduating in 1994 with degrees in sociology and Spanish. She earned a master’s and Ph.D. in leadership and higher education from Georgia Southern University, then worked in HR in higher education institutions across Georgia for over 20 years, including the Medical College of Georgia and Georgia Southern University, steadily working her way up the ladder. Two years ago, a position opened up at Clemson and she jumped at the opportunity.
“What attracted me to Clemson? It was easy. All the same things that attracted me as a student,” she said, noting the small-town, family atmosphere despite it being one of the premier universities in the nation. “What better place to work than my alma mater?”
Kennedy gravitated towards HR work because, in addition to propelling herself, she is passionate about propelling others in their lives and careers.
“My favorite aspects of the job – what drew me in to human resources many years ago – is the ability to listen to other individuals and assist them in whatever they need,” she said. “No day is alike. I have the opportunity to interact with internal and external customers and I get to utilize my strengths – which I believe is listening and being a problem-solver.”
A proud Hispanic, Kennedy also relishes the opportunity to increase diversity and inclusion among the faculty and staff. Her father is from Venezuela and her mother is from Puerto Rico. They first came to the United States so Hernan could work on his residency at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
“When I was young, I knew things were different in my household since my mother did not speak English as her first language and both parents spoke with a thick accent,” Kennedy recalled. “My friends and neighbors struggled to understand her, and I saw her own struggle interacting at PTA and other community meetings. That quickly developed my own desire for embracing diversity and accepting others for who they are, and that has stayed with me both personally and professionally.”
Those values make her a perfect fit in Clemson’s HR office, she explained, because everyone she works with shares them.
Kennedy says there are some general misperceptions about people who work in HR. The truth, she says, is that the majority of people that go into the field do it with the intent to help and connect with others.
“We look for the win-win solution. It isn’t just one person that does the work. There are a lot of hard-working people in HR,” she said, noting that HR impacts the entire life cycle of an employee. “We impact an employee from when they’re recruited at Clemson, to when they’re onboarded, provided benefits, offered training and development opportunities, up until their separation with the University.”
Some people come to HR at difficult points in their careers and personal lives, looking for help, Kennedy explained. It’s in those times that HR employees take on the roles of mentors, something most people don’t consider when thinking about HR, but listening and providing guidance in those situations are some of the most rewarding aspects of the job.
Kennedy said one of her proudest moments was taking a chance on a young man who applied for an HR job with less than three years’ experience. She could see right away that he was a gritty go-getter, so she hired him. His name is Jeff Laws and he’s now the HR manager for Tri-County Technical College.
“Ale has always had the ability to constantly assess where individuals are from an emotional intelligence standpoint, understand their natural strengths, and push the right buttons to build their confidence and knowledge base,” said Laws. “There are simple lessons Ale taught me early in my professional career that still apply today. She does not teach how to solve one situation or problem. Rather, she teaches how to combine analytical skills with subject matter expertise to find a solution or reach resolution. Her lessons are applicable to many situations no matter the level of position held. She has become a dear friend and continues to be someone from which I seek advice.”
Kennedy met her husband Kevin Kennedy, former Georgia Southern University Head Men’s Soccer Coach, and now assistant director of Clemson’s Student Athletic Academic Services department, when they were both in high school, but they didn’t go on a date until after she graduated from Clemson and returned to Augusta, GA
Ale and Kevin live in Clemson with their two children; daughter Meg, 15, and son Jackson, 13. Both are following in their mother’s speedy footsteps: Jackson plays travel soccer out of Greenville and Meg is heavily involved in track and cross country. Much family time is spent traveling to sporting events; “As the parents of teenagers, we do what they do!” They also love getting outside and attending Clemson Soccer and Football games.
And Kennedy hasn’t stopped flying by the soles of her feet. In April she completed the Boston Marathon for the 8th time, her 21st marathon overall.