the institute of beauty and wellness director

INSTITUTE INSIDER: Get Real with Director Kari Kennedy

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There is always a lot going on at The Institute of Beauty and Wellness (and sister school, Aveda Institute Madison) – from guest education to distance learning. One of the latest projects to come out of the school is the Institute Insider, a podcast series, which goes behind the scenes at The Institute of Beauty and Wellness. For the pilot episode, the Institute Insider met with director Kari Kennedy, who joined the team in 2012 and has served as director since 2017, to learn more about her leadership, professional endeavors and personal life.

Kari’s call begins with a question based off the institutes’ tagline, “Your Journey Starts Here”. Like the students we serve, who come from an array of different backgrounds, we wanted to learn what led Kari to The Institute of Beauty and Wellness: receiving services.

“I got services at The Institute of Beauty and Wellness back when I was in college,” Kari said. “I didn’t know of the Aveda brand until I moved to Milwaukee. I had a friend who got services there and convinced me to try it. As someone who has curly hair, I was really nervous about getting my hair cut. But I loved it and went throughout college. Fun fact: Miss Catherine was actually the instructor who oversaw at the time. She always made me feel so confident and it was such a great experience.”

Once an opportunity opened up to work at The Institute of Beauty and Wellness, she jumped on it to get her foot in the door. This brought her to meeting the owner of the institute, Susan Haise, who came in that day specifically for Kari’s interview.

“That really made me appreciate the work environment, and how hands-on she was with the interview process,” Kari said. “This was also my first experience interviewing with a woman owner, so that was really impactful for me.”

Kari got the job and began working as the school’s academic advisor, but for her, the dream was connecting adult learners to their dream career.

“That’s what I love about college: you know, people choose to go to college, so there is a level of investment there that is really exciting,” Kari said. “I’m one of those people that if you’re excited, I’m excited.”

What Kari enjoyed the most about her first year in this role was seeing a student start and finish school and then start working in that career. On the admissions team, she was able to watch a person grow from just learning a new craft to perfecting it and moving on to take the world by storm.

The admissions team was where Kari flourished until an opportunity came along in 2017 to apply for director. Kari felt that her experience in admissions helped set her up for success in her new position.

“I think what happens in admissions is all the excitement,” Kari said. “The school-side is about really nurturing the student through that process. There’s a lot of different feelings about coming to school. There’s a lot of emotion around it. They want to do it right, they want to be perfect for that guest or that future that they have. I think the biggest surprise for me transitioning from admissions to more of an administrative role is the excitement but also keeping people motivated.”

Kari is passionate about both the people and the programs. If Kari were to choose a program to pursue at The Institute of Beauty and Wellness, she thinks it would probably be cosmetology because it would allow her to learn other areas like nails and makeup. She does, however, love the spa experience as well, and would go back to school to be duel-licensed as a cosmetologist and massage therapist.

To understand a little bit more about Kari outside of her role as director, we asked what her favorite things to do in summer are. Like many Wisconsinites, Kari enjoys spending time outside and taking walks through Milwaukee’s various trails and parks. Kari, originally from Texas, was not always a super outdoorsy person.

“I remember moving to Wisconsin and people were always like, ‘Let’s go to the park,’ and I was like, ‘Why?’ I couldn’t understand why everyone just wanted to go to the park,” Kari said. “I think moving to Wisconsin broadened my experience to being outside and I now truly enjoy it.”

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One might say that Kari has adapted to living in the Midwest. The ability to adapt has become something of a theme in her life and career.

“One thing that happened with school, and it happens anywhere, is you can plan until your heart’s content on something,” Kari said. “For example, maybe it’s the fashion show, and your planning and everything is in order, but then the microphone doesn’t work. So there is a lot of problem-solving that you have to do on the spot. I think the biggest thing that I’ve gotten is the ability to adapt, and being okay with that. Adapt to the students’ needs, adapt to the environment, adapt to your team to make sure you can deliver excellent education.”

Kari graduated with a BFA in painting from Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. Her transition from fine arts school to beauty school is another example of her ability to adapt to new environments. While the disciplines are different, both schools attract creative learners.  

“Artists are just people that see the world differently, and somehow they communicate that in some type of art form,” Kari said. “I think what prepared me for this position was that artists are creative thinkers and creative problem-solvers, and I identify with that. It’s also about the organization of the process. Painting is very process-oriented and those skills that I use learning painting are the skills I use every day but in a different way. So, I actually see a lot of similarities in being an artist and working in a beauty school. It’s an aesthetically pleasing profession, so I see a lot more bridges than I do divides.”

Kari applies her problem-solving skills and passion for art and education, cultivated in her own school journey, every day at the institute. As a leader, she works to motivate students to carve their own career paths and live their dreams.

Are you ready to start your own journey? Contact our admissions team today to learn more about our programs and how to get started.