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Changing Lives: Kelly McNamara Corley JD ’89

When Kelly McNamara Corley JD ’89 decided to enroll in evening courses at Mason’s law school after a few years working in a government affairs shop in Washington, D.C., George Mason University was a convenient but below-the-radar choice in higher education. Squeezing in her studies at night while continuing to work full-time, it took four years to earn her degree.

What Corley couldn’t know at the time was that her Mason degree would help launch a career trajectory that would eventually lead to being named general counsel at Discover, one of the country’s largest financial services companies.

Even after moving to Chicago with her family in 1999 to take that senior position, Corley stayed connected to the law school and to Mason. She made the school one of her charitable giving priorities, served on its advisory board, and mentored law students. At Discover, Corley also spearheaded efforts to help those who lack access to the legal system. In fact, her team received an award in 2015 from a non-profit legal aid society honoring the pro bono services that Discover provides to families in the Chicago area.

In 2013, Corley was appointed by the governor to the university’s Board of Visitors. In addition to providing oversight, Corley sees the role as “helping the university think through some of the tough challenges it faces”—especially making tuition affordable.

While Corley herself has generously supported law students, including recently establishing an endowed scholarship fund at Scalia Law, there is another giving opportunity at Mason that she is equally, if not more, passionate about.

“My mom is a nurse who worked in pediatric nursing her whole life as I was growing up. She put herself through nursing school, and she remembered the struggle of trying to accomplish that,” Corley recalls. “We talked together about what we could do to honor her history—something that would also help others.”

Together Corley and her mother, Kay McNamara, hatched the idea of creating a scholarship for Mason nursing students, to be awarded based on merit and need. Corley has pledged $100,000 to the fund, which bears her mother’s name. Imagine the impact of such a gift: one out of every three nurses currently practicing in the D.C. area was trained at Mason. “We know that we will both get a lot of satisfaction out of helping alleviate that financial burden for young nursing students,” she says.

“For someone like me who may have graduated a while ago, it really helps to see what Mason has become and what we are doing to develop the potential of our students. I feel that if every alumnus were able to see that, they would feel as motivated as I do.”

April 24, 2017 / RR