2023 Best Undergraduate Professors: Kelly Eskew, Indiana University Kelley School of Business

Kelly Eskew
Indiana University
Kelley School of Business

“Humanitarian concerns serve as an undeniable driving force in Professor Eskew’s courses, all of which include experiential learning. She is recognized for her robust service-learning projects that engage students in client-focused research around sustainability issues. More than 500 students have participated in research projects for corporate clients, non-profit healthcare systems, IU ancillary divisions (dining, transportation, and the office of sustainability), as well as rural Indiana communities seeking to improve community sustainability through robust arts, education, and recreational programs. Moreover, Professor Eskew’s projects require students to speak with key informants across the globe. In the 2022-2023 academic year, for example, her students conducted interviews with more than 100 individuals in countries as diverse as Mexico, Malaysia, Algeria, and Sweden, among others, on topics ranging from carbon markets to geoengineering to reform of multilateral development banks.” – Sreeni Kamma, associate dean for academics

Kelly Eskew, 59, is Clinical Professor of Business Law & Ethics and Director of Education for the Kelley Institute of Environmental & Social Sustainability at Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

She has received numerous teaching awards, notably the Bonsignore Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Law Teaching from the Academy for Legal Studies in Business. This national award recognizes her commitment to the undergraduate study of law and teaching that is interdisciplinary, demonstrates critical thinking skills, and reflects humanitarian concerns. She also won Kelley’s Faculty Service Award and received the Innovative Teaching Award, the Eyster Teaching Scholars Award, and the Campus Catalyst – Excellence in Teaching Award. She was recognized with the Kelley School’s Panschar Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2019. She has twice been honored with the IU Trustee Teaching Award.

Eskew currently teaches climate change law and policy, business and human rights, sustainability law and policy, and business and global poverty alleviation.

An attorney, Eskew started her law career with 10 years in private practice. She then served as in-house counsel to IU Health, managing malpractice and employment litigation. As a capstone to her law practice, she worked at the ACLU and litigated civil rights cases. She had the privilege of representing clients in two of Indiana’s marriage equality cases.


At current institution since what year? 2015

Education: JD 2001 IU McKinney School of Law; Masters of US History IU 2012

List of Undergraduate courses you teach: Climate Law & Policy, Business & Poverty, Alleviation, Sustainability Law & Policy, Climate Change & Human Rights in South Africa, Ethics & Equity in Diverse Organizations


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when … I realized I could have an impact. I have had many students come to me and talk about how they might connect their business careers to social purpose. This shouldn’t even be a question, so it tells me that there is work to be done. This generation is inheriting truly existential challenges. Business schools need to prepare them to contribute meaningfully to solutions, which sometimes means questioning the status quo.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My research all occurs through the experiential learning of my students. This semester, I have a student interviewing the climate minister for the country of Vanuatu about that country’s participation in an International Court of Justice action. Students are creating podcast episodes on ocean restoration, climate litigation and youth activism, and Investor-State Dispute Settlements. They are talking to experts on food insecurity in America, women’s economic empowerment in the Philippines, and period poverty in the Middle East. The breadth of the research is inspiring. The depth is considerable, with small teams engaged in primary source research (interviews) with key informants around the globe.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be … Running a Basset Hound rescue? (I have two.) I cannot imagine not teaching. 

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I am completely myself in the classroom. I have colleagues who say, “My students don’t know where I stand on any issue.” I absolutely respect this, but I’m incapable of it. I’m a lawyer, so I believe that there are always diverse points of analysis for any issue, but I’m up-front about how I view any given question or topic. I welcome argument that is respectful and supported by evidence. Discussion is the hallmark of my classes. I learn and can have my mind changed by my students. I love teaching so much.

One word that describes my first time teaching: PANIC – a complete out of body experience. It was horrible. But I forced myself to go back  – and I did better the next class.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: My youngest brother graduated from the Kelley School with his MBA. Several months into my first semester there, I called him and said, “I think maybe I know more about business than my students.” And he said, “OF COURSE YOU DO! You’re a grown up person – c’mon, Kelly.” Because my background is not in business, I was insecure – so this was immensely reassuring. That said, I’ve learned so much from my students, colleagues in other disciplines, and numerous guest speakers in the years since. I really am a business professor now.

Professor I most admire and why: My cousin-in-law, Professor Charles Toth at Brown University, is one the best teachers I know. A biologist, he worked with colleagues in other disciplines to create a 3D Dungeons & Dragons-type game to teach about immune systems! The discipline is not the point. The creativity that engages students is the thing that matters, and Dr. Toth exemplifies this. Examples of this also abound among my colleagues in the business school and across the campus. I have had the privilege of chairing our inaugural non-tenure track promotion committee (faculty review) and serve again now as a member. The pedagogical innovation of our faculty is inspiring (and a little bit intimidating)!


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? My students bring intellectual curiosity and a principled commitment to doing business the right way to my courses. I hope all of us are trying to find a way, through our lives and work, to have a positive impact on the world. My “action” is teaching. But let me not omit that nearly 25% of my students come from outside the business school. The richness my non-business students contribute to our discussions and projects is important and positively impacts the outcomes of our projects. My class is a good laboratory for working across disciplines and appreciating multiple perspectives and strengths. This mirrors the hiring practices of many businesses right now.

What is most challenging? Business school students are career-focused, and that drive to get a job can interfere with a commitment to coursework, but also to engaging with the life of the campus. Get out of the school. Take electives elsewhere. Make time for speakers and artists that come to our community but are outside the singular focus of business. Engage more broadly. It makes you a more creative thinker.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Curious

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Arrogant

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …Collaborative. My students cannot successfully complete their major projects without consulting and brainstorming with me at multiple points throughout the semester. I believe that most of my students work hard in my classes because I am encouraging and supporting them. They don’t always realize how much they have done and how hard they have worked because – I hope – I have made the process of that work fun and because their class colleagues and I have supported them in that journey. 


What are your hobbies? I love reading and traveling. 

How will you spend your summer? I’ll take a class to Cape Town for my Climate & Human Rights class. I spend a week with cousins on Nantucket every year. Otherwise, I read on my back porch. I used to do a few weeks in Europe pre-COVID, but now I have two Basset Hounds. Hound dogs are charming and needy, so a bit of an adorable anchor. We might do a road trip – Posy, Poppy, and me.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Nantucket, any European city, back porch

Favorite book(s): “Ministry for the Future” by Kim Stanley Robinson, “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, anything by Kate Atkinson, all novels by John Le Carré or Amor Towles. I try to read a book a week, so the list is very long. I switch between fiction and non-fiction. (Samantha Power’s “Education of an Idealist” changed my DNA.) I’ve read a lot of cli-fi (climate fiction).

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? I’m re-watching “The West Wing” as an antidote to current politics. I am pining for Season 2 of “Severance” because it is so weird that I am required to have total focus. I wish “Great British Baking Show” had a new episode each morning because I smile every minute that I’m watching.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? I love the music of the 1960s and 1970s, like Jimi Hendrix, the Stones, the Beatles, but also James Taylor, Carly Simon, Crosby Stills & Nash – and Neil Young. But also, randomly, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cake, as loud as I can play them. Mood music!


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this … Sustainability and climate focus, completely embedding the UN SDGs in the curriculum – students are eager to be part of the solutions to the existential problems that we are handing to them, and we need to be teaching them the skills necessary to do that work across all disciplines and the whole of our curriculum. 

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at … Being disruptive. Business has obligations to society that extend beyond programs and require a commitment to structural changes. Students want to be engaged in solutions. Business needs to meet them there.

I’m grateful for … Mentors. To name one – Robin Babbitt, who taught me how to be an ethical lawyer and principled person. I close every semester of my Ethics class by talking about Robin and his impact on my life – and I always will. And then I tell the students, “Go and tell your mentor how they have impacted you. And I’m going to go home now and tell Robin again how he has impacted my life.” And I do. I reach out to Robin every single semester and say, “I talked about you today. You changed my life. I appreciate you. I am grateful to you.”


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