Building a foundation

Sullivan, who came to Purdue with her husband in 1971 following their undergraduate years at the University of Kentucky, arrived at the Krannert School a few years later.

“I had a job on campus in what was then called the educational placement office, where I learned about Krannert’s new Master of Science in Management (MSM) degree program,” she says. “Unlike the master’s program in industrial administration (MSIA), it was designed for people who didn’t necessarily have a background in engineering or science. I finished the program in about 15 months, then stayed on to get my PhD.”

It was during her doctoral studies when Sullivan’s passion for academia began to bloom.

Charlene Sullivan

Charlene Sullivan and a team from Purdue's Technical Assistance Program helped manage and expand the services Mid-Land Meals, a nonprofit organization serving eight Indiana counties. More...

“I got the opportunity to teach and really fell in love with the students,” she says. “I figured out that everyone needed to understand the principles of finance, regardless of what they thought they were going to be when they grew up. So I had a lot of enthusiasm for what I was teaching and tried to light the same fire in the students.”

Sullivan’s first faculty appointment at the School of Management was as a research associate in the Credit Research Center (CRC), which at the time was the only research center based in an academic setting that focused on consumer and mortgage credit. Her early mentor was longtime Krannert professor Robert Johnson, who received the school’s first-ever Salgo-Noren Award for teaching excellence and served as the CRC’s founding director.

“The research we were doing was unique; it was marketed as unbiased academic research that was used to craft public policy,” she says. “We testified on it before state and federal legislative bodies. We presented it to managers of financial institutions. We were called on frequently to explain our work to the media and to lawyers. The first quote I ever had in the Wall Street Journal related to a column about developments in consumer credit markets.”

Sullivan continues to take an applied approach both in her teaching and her engagement work across campus and the state, particularly through activities associated with Purdue’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP). As a member of the University Senate since early in career, Sullivan also has a unique perspective of how Krannert fits into Purdue’s larger vision.

“Purdue is very college- and school-focused, so getting faculty involved in the governance at the University level can be challenging,” she says. “In the last 10 years, however, our focus has become more centralized. We realized that we needed to work together to solve some of our bigger problems."

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