Diverse Paths of Leadership and Innovation: Judy Kildow '64

February 14, 2018

2 p.m. Friday, Apr. 6, 2018

Judy Kildow '64 will be the featured speaker in the Diverse Paths of Leadership and Innovation speaker series on Friday, April 6. The event, which is free and open to the public, will start at 2 p.m. in Noyce 1023. The Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership is sponsoring the speaker series and associated course.

My career was unplanned, one I had never prepared for. Rather, events and serendipity propelled me into positions and fields that didn’t exist at the time I graduated. I was not only on the ground floor of a new field of study, Marine Policy, when my career began, but later was able to found at least one new field of study, ocean economics, and am in the process of trying to create a second, Arctic economics. Yet, I had barely studied economics, never the oceans. 

I started out as a music major at Grinnell, realized it was not for me, and selected political science, a default position, as it was my sister’s major at Grinnell. Without any career counseling, I had no clue what I wanted to or could do, so my choices were uninformed at best. Nevertheless, that major led me to graduate school because I knew that I wanted a career. During my last semester, I happened upon an announcement on a bulletin board at Grinnell for a full fellowship to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford Mass., a place I had never heard of. I applied and I got it. Mostly a training school for the foreign service, it sounded exciting at the time, but later I realized it was a bad fit for my strongly independent mind. 

Graduate school exposed me to new ideas and cultures reflected in the international diversity of my class, radicalized me as a consequence of the conservative nature of the faculty, and enraged me when I encountered gender discrimination, both at the school and externally when I tried to interview for jobs upon graduation. I decided to get a Ph.D., a credential that I thought would help to transcend the strong discrimination I had found that faced most women. 

While my dream was to return to teach at a small town liberal arts college like Grinnell, circumstances, both personal and professional propelled me in a different direction and I found myself first at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, as assistant to the director of a new Center for Marine Affairs, a Ford Foundation funded center that brought me into the world of marine science, something I had never anticipated. My next position, another stroke of luck and serendipity was on the faculty in Ocean Engineering at MIT for the next 30 years, launching me on a journey of almost 50 years dedicated to teaching and research about the oceans. I never looked back. With a deep interest in science and engineering despite by social science training, I carved out a unique niche working across disciplines. What a combo, I had inadvertently discovered!!!! Turns out I was the first social scientist hired at Scripps, the first social scientist on the faculty of the engineering school at MIT, the only tenured social scientist in the engineering school of 9 tenured women out of an engineering school faculty of 350, as well as the first woman ever in my department. 

In 1999, I left MIT, taking early retirement, and for the next 10 years changed institutions several times, searching for the right home for me and my new program, changing geographies, life styles and career direction, with federal funds I had received to begin an innovative program in ocean economics, which MIT showed no interest in supporting. While being at MIT was like being a child in a candy shop, I found an exhilarating life after MIT without the MIT identity embedded in my persona.

At the age of 69, I discovered the right place, where I transferred my program to its final home, The Center for the Blue Economy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies located in the most beautiful place on earth, Monterey, California. Now, about to embark on my third act, I retired from there in December (my third retirement actually), and am constructing a new life for myself — Board member, public speaker, volunteer, and author. 

Throughout my long career, besides breaking new ground in many ways, interacting with students from around the globe, I have served on countless national, regional, and state committees and boards, and worked with and benefitted from the minds of famous scientists and engineers. I have been married for 46 years, brought up 4 daughters, and various dogs. Now a grandmother, mother, and wife at this stage of my life, my career allows me the flexibility to select what I want to do, when I want to do it, where I want to travel, what I want to write, and before whom I want to speak. Blessed thus far with good health, aging has not been a hindrance in allowing me to continue to do what I love. 


We use cookies to enable essential services and functionality on our site, enhance your user experience, provide a better service through personalized content, collect data on how visitors interact with our site, and enable advertising services.

To accept the use of cookies and continue on to the site, click "I Agree." For more information about our use of cookies and to opt-out of cookies at any time, please refer to our website Privacy Policy.