A 1991 graduate from the Institute of Industrial and Labor Relations, Colleen McKeown, is currently the Chief Human Resources Officer at Prologis in San Francisco, CA. Although Colleen is a “business person who does HR”, she has always found labor economics and working with unions to be interesting. During her undergrad at Tufts University in Boston, MA, she was a double econ and history major with a specialty in labor economics. Colleen wanted to stay in the field of labor economics and decided to attend LER (then-ILIR) for her master’s degree due to the program being world-renowned. She also received an academic grant with free room and board at Illinois which aided her decision.
One of Colleen’s favorite memories from her time at the School is programing in SPSS on punch cards. Having worked in tech for a long time now, she enjoys telling people of that memory and how tech has changed since then. The worrisome day was the day you had to take your cards in to run your program, knowing a small mistake could throw it off and you were back to the drawing board.
During her time at LER, Colleen completed an independent study and went back to Boston for an internship with the labor union SEIU. The independent study not only allowed her to see how her studies from the classroom differentiated from the real world, but also allowed her to understand the important beliefs a union holds that a good company should also believe in. After she came back to LER and finished her third semester, Colleen began working for Ford Motor Company and used data from her work to complete her thesis.
Since Colleen has enjoyed an extremely successful career and has the ability to give back, she established a $125,000 endowment in honor of her late father, James McKeown. With the scholarship, she hopes to draw people into the field who had not considered employment relations as a career. She also felt a moral obligation to give back after receiving full financial support from Illinois. Her father had the same approach to life, so she decided to name the scholarship in his honor. James McKeown went to St. Johns in Minnesota and started a full-ride scholarship called the “Late Bloomers Fund” for an undergraduate student.
Today the Jim McKeown LER Scholarship Fund gives $5,000 a year to an incoming female LER student with an undergraduate degree in economics. Colleen hopes to “elevate the profession” by encouraging more women with an econ background to join the field of HR. As she puts it, “labor is about data” and requires people who can not only work fast with numbers to understand impact and decisions, but also dig deeper when something looks off.
Colleen’s advice to LER students entering the workforce is “never say no because you never know where life will take you.”
LER appreciates Colleen McKeown and her generosity to help develop female LER students who will become the next generation of “business people who do HR.”