Purdue Profiles: Lou Underwood

August 18, 2015  

Lou Underwood

Lou Underwood, assistant director of alumni relations and special events for the Krannert School of Management. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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Lou Underwood, assistant director of alumni relations and special events for the Krannert School of Management, knows about the twists and turns life can bring. As manager of the Krannert Executive Forum, she hears Krannert alumni share their stories of managing unexpected complications to grow into successful business professionals. In her own life, Underwood took an unconventional path to her undergraduate degree, completing her degree after her children graduated from college.

"Explore all your different options and keep doors open," Underwood says. "When you're 17, or even older, you may not know what you want to do and that's OK. Just be passionate about whatever you do. That's what makes you get up every morning and be successful."

What is your role at the university?

I try not to tell anybody, but I have the best job on campus. Working alumni relations, I get to meet our great alumni and interact with interesting people. I get to know them and learn about exciting new things happening in the business world. Another part of my job is managing the Krannert Executive Forum, which is a course where speakers from a wide range of careers give advice to students on how to be successful. This class allows alumni to see that Krannert students are some of the best and brightest, and students get to make fantastic connections by spending the morning having one-on-one conversations with CEO's and presidents of leading businesses. 

What is your favorite part of working in alumni relations?

It has to be meeting the different students and learning from their experiences. I feel like I'm a lifelong learner. Every student, faculty and speaker that comes through helps me learn and grow. There's this broad exposure to all kinds of people and information. It's not the same thing every day! I also get to help manage the Krannert Leadership Speakers Series. Last year the speaker was the flight director on the Apollo 13, Gene Kranz, who helped save the crew. To meet a national hero like that was just amazing. I'm always in awe that I get to meet and talk to these people.

What are some things you have learned from the Krannert Executive Forum?

I've learned that career paths don't have to be a straight line. A lot of students are linear. They know what they want and are successful. There are other students who are good at many different things -- this is the way I was in school. When you're good at everything, how do you pick what you want to study? I had a hard time with that. Now, I feel like my job allows me to branch out and cover all the things I am good at. The forum allowed me to discover that I'm not the only one to feel this way. There are a lot of people who started down a path, but ran into detours and roadblocks. They decide to go in a different direction and still became happy and successful.

How does it feel to finally receive your college degree in spring 2015?

I am so pleased that I kept on the path. I graduated from high school in three years then went to a small Bible college in Texas. I left college because of a family tragedy. My brother and his wife died in the tornado outbreak in 1974, which left my parents to raise their two children and they needed me at home. After some time, I got married and started having children. I always meant to get back to college, but it's hard balancing school and family. In 2001, we decided to move back to Indiana, and I got a job in sponsored programs at Purdue.

One day, I was walking through Rawls Hall, and I saw an adult student and asked him about school. I mentioned that I thought about finishing, and he told me if I didn't start now that next year I'd be a year behind. So I applied to Purdue in the fall of 2007, and I got accepted into the College of Liberal Arts.

It was funny getting my cap and gown -- because I did walk. I got in line at the bookstore, and the workers told me they weren't ready for faculty. I proudly said, "No, I'm a graduate!" It was exciting, but I couldn't have done it without all the support from my family and Purdue.  I hope I set a good example for my kids, grandkids and my students that you can finish anything, even if it takes awhile.

Writer: Mallory Bilski, mbilski@purdue.edu 

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