A Promise Turned Into a Career

Kathy CoyIn the fall of 2020, less than 18 percent of Harper students were 29 years of age or older (Harper College Fact Book 2020-2021, page 23).

Dr. Kathy Coy, director of institutional research, was a few months shy of her 30th birthday when she took her first college course. She enrolled at the College of DuPage because she had made a promise to herself to go to college before she turned 30. “If I make a promise, I will move heaven and earth to do it,” said Kathy, “even if it is a promise to myself.”

After graduating from Arlington Heights High School, Kathy earned a living as a food server - anyone remember the Bob’s Big Boy on Northwest Highway in Palatine? Yes, that’s where Kathy worked. She moved up in the food and beverage industry and was surprised to discover that managers worked more hours, had more responsibility and earned less money than the waitstaff. She realized this career was not for her.

Kathy, a first-generation college student, dipped her toe in the college waters by taking just one class at first. “Because I was nervous about going to college so far out of high school, I signed up for a child development class - a subject that was of great interest to me,” noted Kathy. Her success in that first class gave her the courage to continue - despite being placed in both development English and math - with the idea of becoming a pre-school teacher. “The more classes I took, the more my career aspirations changed,” said Kathy. “First a teacher, then a pre-school director, then a developmental researcher. With every change, came new educational goals. The one thing that remained constant was my desire to be an agent of change.”

Kathy’s work experience would serve her well, though. The flexible hours and the relatively good money she earned working in restaurants help her pay for her education – thanks to her work and scholarships and grants, she managed to finish community college and earn her bachelor’s degree without incurring any debt. It wasn’t until she entered grad school that she needed to take out a loan, but she was smart about it. She found a doctoral program with an embedded master’s to reduce the amount of time required to earn her Ph.D. in developmental psychology with a focus on toddlers.

After a stint with AmeriCorps, Kathy took a job at a small liberal arts college in Missouri as their institutional research director who was also responsible for teaching two classes per semester. Her next step was an institutional research position at Missouri State University (with no teaching responsibilities required). Seven years ago, Kathy came to Harper and, with the help of her great team, has introduced Power BI to provide greater access to Harper’s data. For the puzzle-loving Kathy, Institutional Research is the perfect fit. Kathy loves putting pieces of data together to get a picture of what is going on. (To keep her mind sharp, Kathy starts every day doing a Wordscapes puzzle).

“I love Harper College. I love what I do. I love the people I work with. And I wouldn’t have gotten one foot in the door if it weren’t for community college,” said Kathy.

Learn more about Kathy.

In your words, what do you do at Harper?

I lead a team that gathers a wide variety of information about the students, academic programs, employees, facilities, and the community.  This information is then shared back to the campus community to support strategic and operational decision making as well as reporting to federal and state agencies for compliance reasons.

What is the most interesting part of your job?

I get paid to solve puzzles. 

Most memorable moment at Harper?

I think this would be the first graduation ceremony I attended at Harper.  Seeing all the decorated caps was inspiring and it showed me how much students valued their education at Harper. 

What is the best thing about working at Harper?

The people I get to work with.

How has your job changed in the age of COVID-19?

I have had to let go of my dependence on paper.  While I still work with paper, I am becoming more comfortable with electronic documents. 

What new strategies have you implemented in the age of COVID-19?

I have become more intentional about staying connected with my team and my colleagues.  I have also implemented 50-minute (or 25-minute) meetings to allow a passing period and I open my meeting room a few minutes early to give folks a chance to chat before the meeting starts. 

What do you enjoy doing outside of Harper?

Small gatherings—which has evolved into Zoom game night.  I also enjoy gardening and reading fiction.

Two Truths and a Lie*

  • I love to cook
  • I love camping
  • Watching sports on TV puts me to sleep



*Lie: Camping. Kathy’s idea of camping is staying at a one-star hotel. She does enjoy going to live sports games, but not watching them on TV.


Last Updated: 1/30/23