Senior Graphic Designer

Susan Kelly


Susan Kelly

Susan holds a degree in flute performance from Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington, Indiana, and has built a career that includes years of creative professional experience spanning music, theatre, graphic design, and education.

Susan’s expertise and passion for graphic design led her to Higher Ground Education, when she joined the team shortly after its founding in 2016. She was the company’s primary freelance designer for four years, and then joined the team as a full-time employee in January 2020 as Senior Graphic Designer. Through this role, she supports all schools in Higher Ground Education’s global network with the creation and implementation of branding and design as an integral part of the Marketing Team.

My Story

Learn more about Susan.

  • Tell us about yourself.

    I have a very eclectic history. I was raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio, home of “you had better become a doctor or a lawyer, or marry one.” So, of course I went in an entirely different direction and received a degree in flute performance from Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington. After passing my senior recital with flying colors, my next step would have been to audition for a symphony. While mulling this over, I worked for a music publisher for five years transcribing scores for high school marching bands. I’ll bet no one else has that on their resume! At this point, I decided to give New York City a whirl with my then husband, where we lived as broke musicians in the most expensive city in the world. Sounds logical. That escapade resulted in a 16-year love affair with New York, where you can be anything you want to be. Being the creative soul that I am, I entered the theatre world with very high hopes that did not turn out how I envisioned, but it was a passion that led me to the life I have now.

    I went back to school for graphic design, and the rest is history. Making the transition from theatre to design was anything but easy, but worth it. After years of freelancing and breaking into the New York market, I landed a wonderful job as an Art Director for Avon Products. Avon was a successful company at that time, and it was an exciting place to work. I also enjoyed teaching for design programs at several NYC schools, including Parsons and the New School. That was a very challenging but rewarding time.

    As the saying goes with New York City: “If you can make it there, you can afford to move somewhere else.” I did just that. San Francisco beckoned me in 2003, and so I packed up, drove across country and resumed my calling for graphic design. I also bought a horse, got married, and here we are.

    I joined Higher Ground within two months of inception. I freelanced with the team for nearly four years and was thrilled to join as a full-time employee in January of 2020.

    On a personal note, I have been happily married for 15 years; Brian is my partner in crime and is also a Respiratory Therapist and Sleep Specialist at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland.

  • What inspires you about education?

    I went to college for music at Indiana University School of Music. My passion for music was my inspiration to excel as a flute player. However, the professors that I connected with on a deeper level were my driving force to always be better. Teachers possess the ability to literally change the direction of your life and impact your decisions, both personally and professionally, forever. Being a teacher, in my opinion, is an enormous responsibility. Teachers can change the trajectory of a student’s life in a good or bad way. I didn’t have the easiest time in college; It was an extremely competitive environment. But, two professors who took me under their wing believed in me, supported me, and read the riot act to me more than once. They both changed my life. That’s what inspires me about education.

  • How did you discover Montessori?

    I didn’t really discover Montessori until I was an adult, but I knew of Montessori. My true introduction came when I was hired to work at Higher Ground Education. I still have so much to learn, but I have great educators all around me!

  • How does Montessori inspire your daily life?

    I have heard many of my colleagues describe Montessori as a way of life, and I do believe that if one is introduced to the Montessori philosophy early on, it can and will mold an individual to become more self sufficient and a free thinker, among other attributes. Fortunately, I became this kind of person in due time with copious amounts of self-reflection and personal growth. Now that I am surrounded by Montessori principles every day, I am discovering how I got to where I am now. And now that I work for Higher Ground, I can easily identify how these principles drive me at work and at home. For instance, as a graphic designer, when I receive a project, I know I have parameters I must follow, but I can practice “freedom within limits.”

  • Do you have a favorite Montessori quote or book?

    “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” My parents were not very good at this, and I can see how it affected myself as well as my siblings. I was the kind of child that wanted to try things first before I asked for help. So I did try, even if my parents were reluctant to let me. That quality has served me well in my life.

  • What have you learned from your time working at Higher Ground thus far?

    I have learned that we are profoundly dedicated to what we do and strive for excellence every single day. I have learned that we are all relentlessly resourceful. I have learned that you can find like-minded people to work with who you trust and respect, and who trust and respect you in turn. I have learned that when you find those qualities, your job becomes a joy and not a burden, and you look forward to collaborating with your teammates. I have never worked with so many critical thinkers, leaders, and dedicated Montessorians.

  • What do you enjoy most about working with your teammates?

    Oh my teammates. What a joy. I have been around the block a few times and have an illustrious career path, but when I landed at Higher Ground I knew I was home. I knew I had finally found my place, and I knew that someone upstairs threw me a bone and placed me with the best team I have ever worked with. We respect each other, we look out for each other, and we truly like one another. I really appreciate the freedom we are allowed to do our job, but at the same time, collaborate as a team. We mesh! They make my job easier and at this point, we practically read each other’s minds. We have great relationships with one another, and our productivity is naturally high. I am forever grateful that I am a member of the Marketing Team.

  • What are your passions, interests and hobbies?

    I am an animal lover above all else. My life revolves around them. I am an avid equestrian, and I was lucky enough to have my “heart horse” for 12 years. Sadly, I had to say goodbye to Yogi in 2018. He made it to 21, but he had some medical issues that cut his life shorter than I hoped. I do ride my friend's horse on a regular basis. The barn is my happy place – the place where I can go and forget about everything and just focus on the sentient animal I am so privileged to interact with. It is meditative and feeds my soul; It is where heaven meets my heart.

    We also have two great dogs. Shammy is our Pitbull/Hound mix, lover of the universe, and Fiona is our dear sweet Irish Wolfhound, who can be quite the sassy girl as well as a couch potato. She does it all! We also have three very demanding cats.

    I love art, music and theatre and am looking forward to the day when we can all return to enjoying those activities outside of the home. Lastly, I love to read. I am a true bookworm! I am not partial to a certain type of book. If it is engaging, I will read it!

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