Jackie Rees Ulmer

Krannert professor and director of accreditation Jackie Rees Ulmer (Photo by Mark Simons)

Part of the Story

Prof’s cancer survival one of many challenges met

Professor of management, director of accreditation, researcher, wife, mom and cancer survivor –– all describe Jackie Rees Ulmer, but none on its own defines her.

She recalls friends and family saying, ‘It’s nothing. It’s almost always nothing.’ She was 31, statistically too young for the breast lump to be anything medically serious. But lurking in the back of her mind was the memory of her grandmother who died of breast cancer.

“Everyone reassured me, but I worried about it,” she says. Her physician found the lump during a routine physical examination, and a mammogram confirmed her fear. Surgery followed, then chemotherapy from January through March 2000.

She had joined the Krannert faculty two years earlier, soon after earning her PhD in decision and information services from the University of Florida. “I was enjoying life," she says. "The next thing I knew I had breast cancer. It initially threw me, but everyone at Purdue was amazing.”

She taught throughout her treatment, donning a wig to cover her baldness. She credits the support from deans, faculty, staff and especially students for getting her through it.

She is now cancer-free, and she rarely thinks about it, stating: “It’s a chapter of my story, not the entire book.” She believes the experience, however, has made her more compassionate.

“When students go through personal tragedies, I try to fully understand,” she says. She cited one student who struggled with a recurring cancer and another who was in a serious car accident. “I asked myself, ‘How can I show them support and still help them get through this course?’”

Rees Ulmer teaches in the management information services (MIS) area, where the emphasis is on improving business processes through information technology. Through her class Introduction to Business Programming, some students get their first glimpse of the behind the scenes of how technology is developed. “I just love the see those light bulbs go off,” she says.

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