Distinguished Staff Award
Kelly Canaday

Kelly Canaday

Adviser and Program Manager, Dance, College of Arts & Sciences

Nominated by Jennifer Salk, Associate Professor, Dance

Awarded 2018

Dear Distinguished Staff Award Committee:

46,000 people attend the UW. It is, for some students, a sea of strangers. One sophomore says of advisor and program manager Kelly Canaday, “Kelly deserves this award for many reasons, but mostly because she makes students feel like individuals who are a valued part of the dance department community.” When I put a call out to students to give me a few lines about Kelly for this nomination, my inbox was flooded with them.

Let’s get the quantitative evidence out of the way. Since Kelly became our advisor a little over three years ago our major has jumped from 32 to 65, and is still climbing. We are now considering when to cap our major. The numbers include a substantial increase in underrepresented minority group students and “first in the family to attend college” students. This is because of Kelly’s ability to do several crucial things: She sees when a student is wrestling between majoring in another subject and dance and talks through the major with them allowing them to see how they fit into the major and how they can major in both subjects successfully, within the four years; She walks the halls and asks students who they are, introduces herself, asks them questions about themselves and then says, “make an appointment to talk to me.” And they do. She watches classes. She will then talk to the professors and ask them to talk with students who she thinks have great potential. She is particularly sensitive to the UMG population in our department and reaches out to them right away. She attends our faculty meetings with lists of students who are at risk, and students who are pre-major who need nudging and encouragement. When students and parents come through she sets up time for them to view and if possible, participate in classes and meets with them for one hour. Those are only a few things she does to make our department feel like a family.

Kelly advocates fiercely for our students. Recently, we found out that one of our best students was living in a hotel room with her mother and three siblings, and did not have enough to eat. Unfortunately, resources on campus were proving insufficient. So, Kelly went off campus to her network. Within 24 hours she had secured a safe place for this student to stay through legal means. Now this student has a safe place to sleep, meals, and is able to focus on being a student. This is another testimony from a recent alum:

Kelly Canaday played a vital role in helping me survive and navigate University of Washington. I am a disabled, queer, Filipinx, femme person. I grew up in South King County with a lot of brown, black, immigrant, queer, and low income families. Coming to UW was a huge culture shock. But Kelly made sure to have my back.

During my Junior year of college I was mentally, emotionally, and physical exhausted. At this point in my life I had moved 7 times, had 5 jobs to maintain the skyrocketing costs of living in Seattle, came to school starving, and was navigating PTSD without even knowing I had PTSD. So, I dropped the two credits to give me some breathing room which, unbeknownst to me, affected my full-time student status which then directly affected my financial aid status. I got a notice that told me I would no longer be eligible for financial aid at UW simply because I had dropped under full time status. I sent a long email to Kelly that I would no longer be a student at UW and therefore, no longer a student at the dance program.

Kelly was relentless and refused to accept that I was being denied financial aid. She contacted the financial aid office and somehow organized a meeting with the people who had made these decisions. Kelly used her power and privilege to fight for me, and I am forever grateful that she did. Kelly held space for me graciously during some of the hardest times of my life.

Kelly has figured out how to discuss the value of majoring in dance with students who feel the tremendous pressure (external and internal) to major in a subject that will help them be successful after graduation. She acknowledges and tells them about the value of majoring in dance because it teaches cognitive skills, creative problem-solving skills, in groups and alone, how to be a leader and step back and let others lead, how to think spatially, etc. But while the majority of the country is preaching to students to invest in their futures for financial and security purposes, she then tells them that if it brings them great satisfaction and happiness, that is the greatest value of all. And our numbers keep climbing.

Kelly has played vital role in my life, and in the dance faculty’s lives as well. As mentioned in a supporting letters by faculty, we had a negative staff member resign in April, 2017. Kelly immediately volunteered to go to 100% to help us until we were able to hire a new administrator. As a single mother of two teenage boys, she prefers not to work full time. In addition to continuing her role as advisor extraordinaire, she helped close the biennium budget, did payroll and all of the fiscal specialist duties, and continued to be my curricular collaborator. She is the only person I have heard not complain about Workday.

Kelly and I work very closely. I have to create our quarterly schedules and we work in collaboration, to create them. She advises me on how many sections of a given course we might need based on actual demand, and on what students tell her. She is, to my knowledge, the only advisor who also builds the time schedule and puts in requests for classroom space.

She is, in some ways, the greatest spirit of our department. We serve over 1000 non-majors and most of them know her. They often seek advice from her because she is honest, she listens, she is compassionate but doesn’t baby them, and she has built an arsenal of resources for them. A student writes, “Kelly is always an incredibly helpful and calming presence. She’s answered my questions since before I applied to UW. I love how honest she is about what decisions would be right for me.”

Kelly has served the UW for over ten years now in multiple capacities but has found her calling in advising. She is brilliant at it and we are a completely different program because of her. We are all grateful for her contributions, passion, intellect, ability to think on her feet, collaborative, and “can do” spirit, and the way she makes us all feel protected and supported. She is beyond worthy of this award. We thank you for your time reading these testimonies and this nomination.

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