Skip to main content
Home About Us News & Stories

Hope, Renewal and Transformation - The Robert Kelly Story

Hope, Renewal and Transformation - The Robert Kelly Story

Robert Kelly '05 posing for a photo

By Andrew Faught

As president of the University of Portland since July 2022, Robert Kelly ‘05 is the first layperson and the first person of color to lead the private Catholic institution that sits on a scenic bluff overlooking Oregon’s Willamette River.

He planned to go to law school and work on Capitol Hill, but serving as student body president as an undergraduate at Loyola University Maryland afforded Kelly new vistas.

“Because of that experience of working with the administration in so many different ways, I began to think I might want a job working on a college campus,” he says, noting a particular allure. “You get to interact with students and faculty and staff to make things happen for a university. There’s so much heart, energy, vitality and hope.”

Kelly went on to earn a doctorate in education policy, planning and administration at the University of Maryland, where he met his wife, Bridget Turner Kelly, who holds a PhD in social foundations from the university. Bridget Turner Kelly, an associate professor of student affairs in the UMD College of Education, occasionally teaches courses in College Park, or remotely via Zoom.

Robert Kelly (middle) posing for a photo with parents and alums.

It was at Maryland where Robert Kelly found faculty mentors, including Professor of Higher Education Sharon Fries-Britt, who helped light his way to higher ed administration.

“They’re storytellers and guides, and they accompany you along a path, whether it’s getting your bachelor’s degree, looking for an internship or having that first student teaching experience,” Kelly says. “Then when you get to that door, you keep it open and help lead someone else through. I walk on the shoulders of people who have gone before me.”

Prior to arriving at the University of Portland, Kelly was vice president, special assistant to the president, and a clinical professor at Loyola University Maryland. He's forged his career not just through hard work, but also introspection and risk-taking.

It's akin to taking puzzle pieces from your life and assembling them into a mosaic, he adds: “You have to figure out what you want it to look like, and then you curate your experiences to help you shape the kind of picture you want.”

Kelly’s own expertise centers on an institution’s mission and identity, student development, emergency management, diversity, equity and inclusion. At the University of Portland, his leadership focuses on “hope, renewal and transformation.”

In a nation riven by political discord, they are words that guide Kelly’s leadership.

“I want students to leave here with a sense that they can make the world a better place,” he says.


Advance your career, elevate your expertise and connect with fellow Terps during the Alumni Association's fourth annual Career Week. With over 25 virtual and in-person programs all over the United States, there is something for every Terp.

Click here to learn more and register NOW!


The Alumni Blog connects you with the latest at UMD. Check out articles on advancing your personal and professional goals, elevating your UMD pride, and celebrating Terp traditions, legacies and accomplishments.

Have an interesting story to tell about yourself or your friends from your days at UMD? Email our team at for a chance to be featured on the Alumni Association blog and receive EXCLUSIVE PRIZES!

For even more content, follow the Alumni Association on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.