Alumni and Friends

Communication Degree from Ohio University helps Donna Kelce navigate media and career

Donna Kelce had to clear her throat several times during our phone conversation on a Tuesday in early December because she still hadn’t recovered from the weekend.

“Sorry,” she said. “My voice isn’t right yet after screaming at football games this past weekend sitting next to a cold window!”

Kelce, who graduated with a radio and television degree from Ohio University in 1974, is the mother of two NFL football players, Jason (Center, Philadelphia Eagles) and Travis Kelce (Tight End, Kansas City Chiefs).  She watches her sons play at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City from upper-level suites that she’s recently shared with many celebrities, including Travis’ girlfriend, Singer/Songwriter Taylor Swift and Actor Kevin Miles, who plays Jake from State Farm. Kelce also became a household name in her own right last football season when her sons played each other in Super Bowl LVII.

“I learned a lot getting my communication degree from Ohio University that I have used with the media. The most important thing you can do in life is communicate well,” said Kelce. “The biggest thing is to be true to yourself and not to come across fake. You don’t come across well on TV or any kind of media if you are not being true, genuine, and authentic.”

Growing up in Moreland Hills, Ohio, near Cleveland, Kelce chose Ohio University for her undergraduate degree because of the beautiful campus and because it wasn’t located close to home.

“It was far enough away from family that they couldn’t stop by, and I couldn’t go home a lot,” Kelce said with a laugh. “At that age, you just want to do your own thing.”

Kelce said she decided to be a radio and television major because she thought it would be fun.

“I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do,” said Kelce. “Women, at that time, were told to go to school and marry a guy that was going to graduate. RTV sounded fun, and I was good at writing and English, so I thought it would be a good fit.”

While at Ohio University, Kelce played intramural basketball and focused on her classes. But it was also a politically tumultuous time and there was a lot of activity on campus.

“The Civil Rights Movement was a big deal, and there wasn’t just one culture on campus. So, I got to meet people and learn about different things,” said Kelce. “The Vietnam War was going on and things were different and changing. It was a difficult time, but also a wonderful time with music and learning about yourself. I learned not to just be a cookie cutter individual. I learned to be who I wanted to be.”

Kelce lived in Shively Hall her freshman year and has vivid memories of riding cafeteria trays down Jeff Hill. She said Halloween weekend was her favorite time on campus because of the celebratory feeling and irreverent costumes.

Even though she learned a lot about communication at Ohio University, after graduation Kelce did not pursue a media career. She ended up working in the banking industry and got her MBA from Baldwin Wallace University. Kelce’s career included roles as vice president and senior vice president at banking organizations in northeast Ohio.

“I’m glad I had that base of communications from Ohio University. I had to make many presentations and stand in front of people and because of my background, I felt confident. I could express what I wanted to say,” said Kelce. “I needed to meet people and be able to connect and relate to individuals. In business, it’s so important to be able to connect to people. You need to be able to listen, learn, step back and keep your mouth shut. Those communication skills are more important than anything.”

And those are skills that she has passed on to her sons. Jason and Travis host a podcast called New Heights which lets listeners learn about the ins and outs of being an NFL player and how the brothers balance everything else along with it.

“They are two extremely articulate men who are very good at expressing their emotions and feelings,” said Kelce. “I’d imagine by watching me and their dad, we were pretty up front with our feelings and asked them to express how they felt too, they might have learned a thing or two.”

Reflecting on her time in Athens, 50 years later, Kelce said, even though her career and life went in a different direction, Ohio University had a tremendous impact. 

“I was so sheltered as a child,” said Kelce. “Ohio University opened my eyes to everything. I didn’t know anything. I came from a very religious family and was very sheltered. A whole new world opened up to me.”

December 18, 2023
Cheri Russo