Makaela trains leaders to change the world. This is how.

Makaela Kingsley '98, PCSE Director copy.jpeg

Makaela Kingsley helps young people change the world. LITERALLY. As the director of Wesleyan University’s Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, she leads programs to educate and support students who considers themselves,  “entrepreneurs” and “intrapreneurs.”

NOTE: These are individuals who want to build nonprofit, for-profit, or community-based organizations or seek to create change from within existing systems and institutions.

Here’s what you should know about her.

1. Long-term what do you hope to achieve?

To instill my students with problem-solving mindsets and skill sets and ensure that a liberal arts education stays relevant in our rapidly changing world.

They may launch a successful venture through the Patricelli Center or they may fail epically in their work with me – both outcomes are fine. What matters is whether they develop the entrepreneurial spirit that will allow them to recognize problems and opportunities, ideate and test solutions, and repeat this cycle for the rest of their lives.

Wesleyan’s mission is to offer an education characterized by “boldness, rigor, and practical idealism.” Our students are interdisciplinary, critical thinkers who are engaged with the world around them. With the tools of social entrepreneurship, our graduates will be better prepared to respond effectively to whatever challenges they face in the years after Wesleyan.  

2. What led you to your current profession/line of work?

Like most people, my “career path” was not particularly intentional or linear.

Here’s the abbreviated version:

I graduated from Wesleyan in 1998 and moved to Boston to work for Planned Parenthood. Two years later, I followed my future husband back to Connecticut where he had accepted a new job. I decided to work at Wesleyan for a bit while I explored what would come next. That was almost 20 years ago, and I have never left!

During those two decades, I was able to work in multiple departments doing everything from event planning to fundraising to board management and beyond. I got married, had two kids, and bought a house. Five years ago, I was given the opportunity to run Wesleyan’s new Patricelli Center, and I have enjoyed every day since.

I am learning constantly, working with inspiring students and colleagues, and championing the rapidly growing field of social entrepreneurship in a time when the world needs innovation more than ever.

3. What did it take to get where you’re currently?

        a. Did it take education? If so, what type and how many years?

        b. Did you depend on your professional network?

While I do have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, I credit my relationships for my professional “success” and (more importantly) my professional satisfaction. Each job I’ve had came from networking and relationship-building, either directly or indirectly. I believe deeply in the importance of connecting with other people. You never know what a chance encounter or a long-term connection can lead to…be open to the possibilities!

4. What do you think are the best skills to have? Soft or Hard skills? List a few you think are essential.

I vote for soft skills (especially the ones that will allow you to learn the hard skills when you need them)-

(1)  Growth mindset – if you haven’t heard of that, stop reading this and go Google it now! It will change your life!

(2)  Strong work ethic – don’t be afraid of the grind

(3)  A sense of self – know your “story” and be able to share it, flaws and all

5. What do you most enjoy about your work? Why is it necessary in today’s workforce?

My kids – Amelia (age 11) and Eli (age 8) – are both in elementary school. One of their teachers’ talks about “the power of yet.”

The “yet” is what I value and enjoy most about my work – being part of students’ learning journeys and helping them push through challenges, insecurities, and failures and come out stronger on the other side.

Each of these encounters helps me learn and grow as well.


6. Talk about your biggest failure. What did you learn from that experience?

When we think about “big failures,” we generally look for single catastrophic events. A crisis that needed immediate attention, a moment of panic, an epic disaster. Mine is more like a dripping faucet – mostly tolerable, barely noticeable, but clearly needed to be fixed.

My biggest failure has been staying “heads-down” in my work and missing opportunities to think and act boldly. I’ve stayed in positions well past when they challenged me. I’ve passed up opportunities to advance my career. This tendency has held me back professionally and prevented me from having a greater impact.

On the other hand, “failures” can be positive as well. My professional trajectory, albeit slow, has allowed me to live a balanced and happy life, and I would not change that for anything!

7. Why should young people seek the profession you’re in? Why should they be interested in your type of work?

Working at a higher education institution keeps you young and on the cutting edge. Nothing compares to being surrounded by the emerging leaders who will take over this messy world we have created for them!

8. What can young people start doing now to launch a successful career like yours?

Build connections in every direction – mentors, peers, and people younger than you. Make them relational, never transactional. Be open to serendipity. As someone once said to me: “just show up”!

Also, get to know yourself. What is your personal narrative? What makes you the person you are today, and how does that person change with every new life experience? Your story is constantly unfolding, and it’s important to pay attention as it happens.

9. When did you explore the value of networking and building relationships? How big of a role has your individual network played a part in your life?

When I was a freshman in college, I applied to be a student worker at Wesleyan’s Reunion Weekend. I ended up handing out packets and nametags to hundreds of alumni over three long days. This seemingly mundane experience opened my eyes to the power of networks.

I watched graduates from age 25 to 95 reconnect with their peers and make new friends. I watched people exchange business cards and brainstorm new collaborations.

Although relationship-building is something I always enjoyed and valued, that experience solidified my belief in the power of networking. I have worked at it ever since, and it has helped me countless times along the way.

To learn more about Makaela or connect with her, connect with her here