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From Chaucer to Corporate Sustainability: an English grad’s path to becoming environmentally responsible

English alumna Natalie Kelly, '05, loves to share her knowledge of eighteenth-century British literature at social gatherings.

“Not everyone can recite the opening lines to Canterbury Tales,” Kelly said.
Kelly picked up this party trick in Auburn, while taking a class with English professor Craig Bertolet.

“I have all of my Chaucer students recite the opening 18 lines of the general prologue to the Canterbury Tales,” Bertolet said. “She took Chaucer with me in spring 2005. I always suggest to my students that by being able to recite those lines in the original Middle English, you can be very impressive at parties.”

As an Auburn student, Kelly learned to follow her heart, which is how she ended up as an English major.

“I met with an advisor in the College of Liberal Arts, who simply asked me, ‘What do you love? What are you passionate about?’ And I’d never really thought about choosing my major that way. I come from a family of business people, so an English major was never on my radar until I met with that advisor. And once I did, I remember asking her what I could do with an English degree other than teach, and she said, ‘Well you can do anything.’ And she was right.”

In addition to being a big hit at dinner parties (she assured us that she does get invited back), Kelly has many other talents. For example, she is entrepreneurial and started a sustainability initiative in Birmingham after returning home from a mission trip to Uganda.

“I was so struck by the amount of waste and how people were living in this really difficult environment. It was a wake-up call for me and about my commitment to the environment and to sustainability.”

To channel her passion, Kelly built a web-site called MyGreenBirmingham.com.

“It was more about my journey into becoming more environmentally responsible. And probably after a year, it started taking off. People were very responsive to it. It became more of a household name in Birmingham. We did a lot of marketing with companies and organizations that wanted to have a presence in the environmental space.”

She created, and then ultimately sold, other “My Green” websites, including MyGreenMontgomery.com and MyGreenAtlanta.com.

Kelly continues her commitment to sustainability through her position with the construction company Brasfield & Gorrie, where she leads the corporate responsibility department.

“I work on sustainability, and I also have diversity and inclusion, and I get to support some of our charitable-giving efforts. So it’s the best of both worlds. It’s the culmination of everything that I’ve done after Auburn preparing me for a senior management position in a major corporation. It’s been really special.”

Kelly was invited to speak to Liberal Arts students as part of the Alumni Speaker Series, hosted by the Office of Career Services. She shared a few of the things she wished she would have known as an Auburn student.

Wisdom from Natalie Kelly to current students:

1. You don’t realize how special college is until you’re out of it. When you’re in the thick of it and just trying to pass midterms and finals, you miss how unique this experience is. Soak it all in and try not to focus on “when I graduate, when I graduate, when I graduate.” Be fully present, be here.

2. Life moves at the speed of relationships. A mentor shared that with me, and what he meant by that is with every experience we have, there is someone who’s part of it—someone who helped advance it or helped steer you in the right direction. Realize how important it is to develop your network and to develop those lasting relationships, because it can really be important to your career.

3. Protect your brand. You are a brand, whether you know it or not. Be protective of it.

4. I graduated on a Friday and went to work on Monday—don’t do that! Give yourself a few days to acclimate…maybe even a week. 

Tags: Alumni English

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Vicky Santos
Director, News and Media Services
CLA Office of Communications and Marketing
334-844-7186
santovr@auburn.edu

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