Michael and Michelle Kelly, WSU MBA graduates. Photo by WSU Photo Services

Michelle Kelly Earns WSU Alumna Woman of Distinction Award

By Sue McMurray

Michelle Kelly (’11 Soc. Sci., ’20 MBA) has a new accolade to add to her growing list of accomplishments: the Washington State University Alumna Woman of Distinction Award. She was one of six women recognized at WSU’s Women of Distinction ceremony April 19 for contributing to the personal and professional success of women, creating positive social change, and increasing equity on their campus and in their communities.

Kelly’s “service and sacrifice for our country, community, and WSU have been nothing short of exceptional and exemplify the spirit of this award magnificently,” a nominator wrote.

“To me, this award means my efforts are being seen and acknowledges what I’m doing well,” says Kelly. “I tend to think about what can be fixed versus what I’m doing right.”

Upon examination of her multiple awards, including the Army Commendation Medal and the Meritorious Medal, it would be correct to assume she does many things right.

After graduating from WSU with her bachelor’s degree, Kelly served in the U.S. Army for seven years. After leaving active duty with the rank of captain, she joined the Washington Army National Guard and the WSU Army ROTC program. Today, she is the ROTC military science instructor for 110 cadets, leads the ROTC federal team, and manages the WSU Army ROTC Recruiting Club.

Kelly says the networking skills she gained in her online MBA program have contributed to the success of the ROTC program and her personal business, Michelle’s Closet, a consignment clothing store in downtown Pullman.

Marketing, Networking, and Financial Training Benefit ROTC Students and Community Businesses

Kelly says she gained a solid understanding of markets through her MBA training, and she’s been able to transfer that knowledge to members of the Cougar Battalion, an ROTC student organization. The students developed an idea to sell discount cards promoting downtown businesses while raising funds for the battalion. Kelly linked the students to her Pullman business contacts who would be interested but also had a target market of the WSU campus. The students raised over $1,000, and businesses saw an uptick in customers taking advantage of discounts.

On campus, Kelly’s developed relationships with other military advisors and employees as well as staff and students in the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles located in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. For the past two years, merchandising and design students have come to Michelle’s Closet to get textiles for the annual WSU Fashion Show that highlights the talents and skills they’ve developed during their time at WSU.

Reflecting back, Kelly explains she and her husband, also a WSU MBA graduate, applied what they learned from the finance portion of the MBA program to figure out the cost of overhead they’d need to open Michelle’s Closet and strategies to sustain the business.

“It’s been pretty awesome because we haven’t had to take out a loan yet,” she says.

She says they were able to invest her military retirement funds into the business and successfully apply for community grants to remain profitable.

Philanthropy Is At the Center of a Successful Business Model

In addition to strong financial and marketing practices, philanthropy is a key component of Michelle’s Closet’s business model. Kelly donates textiles to local establishments that directly help the Palouse, such as Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse; Palouse Treasures, a Pullman thrift store supporting job training for disabled adults; and the Cooper’s Legacy Foundation that helps Whitman County residents in need to pay vet bills. Kelly also plans to donate to Under the Bridge, a Spokane organization that helps women in crisis get back on their feet.

Last year, Michelle’s Closet supported WSU sorority Alpha Chi Omega’s fundraising event for the Make a Wish Foundation by donating over 40 percent of the proceeds to the cause. Michelle’s Closet also supports WSU’s LGBTQ community by donating clothing to the WSU Fluid Fashion Closet and providing students access to transportation to Pride events.

“I want everyone to feel they have a place here,” says Kelly. “I look forward to forming more WSU connections and matching clothing needs on campus and in the community.”