President Kelly began his academic career in 1982 as an assistant professor at Texas A&M University. Three years later, he went to Clemson, rising through the ranks to become professor and department head by 1991. He was named vice president for public service and agriculture in 1997 and vice president for economic development in 2010. During his 28 years at Clemson, the university advanced from 78th to 20th in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of all public universities. Active on the national level, President Kelly has served on the boards of the Administrative Heads Section of the National Association of State Universities and Land-grant Colleges (now the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities) and the American Distance Education Consortium.
President Kelly was raised in South Carolina. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Clemson and both a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. In 2017, he received the Clemson Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor for a Clemson graduate. He is married to FAU First Lady Carolyn Kelly, and they are the parents of Carly and Stella.