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Kimberly Clayton-Code
Milburn Award Recipient Kimberly Clayton-Code reflects on her time at NKU.

For Kimberly Clayton-Code, Northern Kentucky University is a family tradition. Her father has been an economics professor on campus since 1980. She and her husband are both Norse alumni, and now her two sons, Matthew and Andrew, attend NKU. She grew up at the university, running around campus and knew early on education was her future.

“My dad teases that I have been teaching at NKU since I was nine. He would go to work, and I would take my younger brothers into a classroom. We had workbooks, and I would teach them,” Clayton-Code recalls, laughing at the memory. “They probably hated it, but I always knew I wanted to be a professor.”

In her first year at college, Clayton-Code got to work directly with a professor and see the job firsthand. The Freshman Scholars program drew her to break the family tradition and attend Purdue University for her undergraduate studies in elementary education.

“I was able to, as a freshman, do research with the professor on Gifted Education,” she says. “Some of it was a nightmare, like data entry, but it gave me insight into the research component of being faculty. It also gave me the connection and someone who was checking in to make sure I was being successful in my classes. I know it worked for me, and I think it’s something NKU should have. We are getting better and doing more mentoring programs, which is great.”

"NKU was always my goal, and I got to be here with my dad having him as a trusted adviser on campus. And now my sons are here. I love it, and I love what I do. And, I guess I need to find a new goal now because I’m living it.”

The ability to empower people to pursue their goals is what Clayton-Code loves about teaching at NKU. She returned to NKU for her master’s degree and the University of Louisville for her Ph.D. Now after more than 20 years, she says she couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

“NKU has something special to offer. It’s the small class sizes, and I’m not just saying that because it’s our tagline. At NKU, you’re working with the professor who is the expert in their field,” Clayton-Code says. “Each semester is different, and the class culture is different. I’ve taught a lot of different classes—23 I think—and that’s what has kept it fun and impactful.”

In 2009, Clayton-Code found another way to empower high school girls through a conference hosted by the newly formed Institute for Talent Development and Gifted Studies. The next year, she joined forces with Young Women LEAD to hold the annual conference at NKU, and it has continued for 11 years.

“You think you’re doing this little thing, and it’s just a one-day event. But it’s become more than that,” she says. “No one has told these girls that they have value and can contribute to whatever they want to do. It is amazing to me how many are not getting that message. We think we are giving it in many different forms, but it’s not there for some reason.”

Through Young Women Lead’s format, many more are hearing the message. COVID shifted the past two conferences to virtual events, but it also expanded the reach. In 2020, participants from 28 different states attended. This year, young women nationwide and from Canada, Guatemala and Mexico attended after finding the event on social media. The virtual platform amplified their efforts to promote Young Women LEAD’s message of empowering high school girls.

“Last fall in the Student Union, a student came up to us and said, ‘I’m at NKU because of Young Women LEAD and what you said that day,’” Clayton-Code says. “It does connect, and it’s so important. Confidence research tells us that girls’ confidence levels are evenly matched to boys until the age of 10. At this point, her confidence plummets until it finally begins to rebound in the college years. However, her self-confidence will not return to fourth grade levels until she is 50. That is just sad, and we want to change that.”

Family has always influenced Clayton-Code, and receiving the Milburn Award makes it come full circle. She followed in her father’s footsteps to become a professor at NKU and saw him receive the Milburn Award in 2005. This past fall, she accepted the same award with her father and sons in attendance.

“Northern is always where I wanted to be,” she says. “NKU was always my goal, and I got to be here with my dad having him as a trusted adviser on campus. And now my sons are here. I love it, and I love what I do. And, I guess I need to find a new goal now because I’m living it.”

About This Article

Anna Wright
Contributor. NKU Magazine
Published April 2022
Photography by Scott Beseler

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