Women in pest management: Kim Kelley-Tunis
December 21, 2017
December 21, 2017
PMP interviews seven professionals about their journey so far, and what’s next in 2018.
What do a pest management firm owner, an industry federation president, two industry association executives, an industry product manufacturer, a pest researcher, and the 2017 National Pest Management Association Woman of Excellence winner have in common? They’re all profiled in our December issue. They’re all successful women in their respective fields, and they’ve all graciously shared insights about how they got here. In addition, they also offer advice to other women in professional pest management.
Every woman profiled for our series this year noted that the industry has changed — for the better — since they began 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. As Mary Vongas, pictured on our cover, notes, “Change means a possibility of innovation, advancement and growth. If you are flexible, plan your path, and work toward managing change, you can get your organization moving in a growth direction.”
Kim Kelley-Tunis has grown to love the industry, which is like family.
As the oldest of three children and the daughter of a science teacher, Kim Kelley-Tunis, ACE, BCE, spent a lot of her childhood in Terre Haute, Ind., outdoors. In elementary and high school, she gravitated toward science and nature studies.
When Kelley-Tunis enrolled at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., she started in pre-veterinary. She soon realized, though, that other topics piqued her interest. She switched her major to wildlife science. During the summer between junior and senior years, she took a job in the entomology department, which required to her to travel to Gary, Ind., to test pesticides in housing developments.
“That was the start of it,” recalls Kelley-Tunis, chair of the National Pest Management Association’s Professional Women in Pest Management Committee. “It was an interesting job. It was hot and sweaty.”
Kelley-Tunis liked working with people in the lab and thought lab work was fun. At that time, she still intended to pursue wildlife as a career. She wasn’t thinking about pest management, even after she graduated from Purdue in 1991.
Dr. Byron Reid, then-director of Purdue’s industrial affiliates program — and currently senior principal scientist at Bayer CropScience — told Kelly-Tunis he still could use her help in the lab, so she worked there a few more years. Later, she worked for Purdue’s Center for Urban and Industrial Pest management, while her soon-to-be husband, Brian Tunis, started a master’s program in forestry and natural resources at the university.
In 1995, PMP Hall of Famer Dr. Bobby Corrigan (Class of 2008) asked Kelley-Tunis to think about pest management as a career. So the newlywed started working in the field with McCloud Services, Schaumburg, Ill. For 14 years, she worked in different areas of the industry — training, service, route and sales work.
In 2009, she, Brian, and their two children relocated to Raleigh, N.C., where Kelley-Tunis was Orkin’s Atlantic division technical manager.
In 2012, she moved to Atlanta, Ga., to become technical services director of Orkin’s parent company, Rollins Inc., focusing on quality assurance and termite claims. It’s a role she continues today.
‘We’ve worked through it’
While Kelley-Tunis admits she’s had to bust some industry misconceptions over the years, her biggest challenge came in January 2015, when Brian died suddenly after a heart attack. She’s now raising their children Andrew, 18, and Kaelan, 16, (pictured left) by herself.
“We’ve worked through it,” she says. “The industry is like a family. They’ve been phenomenal. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have their support.”
Kim Kelley-Tunis, ACE, BCE
Title: Director, Quality Assurance and Claims
Company: Rollins Inc., Atlanta, Ga.
Years in industry: 29
Advice for women in the pest management industry: “Never give up! Don’t let any obstacles hold you back from what you love, whether perceived or actual. Oftentimes, women won’t even try pest management because of these obstacles, like a fear of bugs, family obligations, or perceived physical limitations. That’s not what this industry is all about! It actually provides for a flexible work schedule, daily variety of tasks, and a support system that is unmatched by any other industry. Stick with it, ask for help when you need it, and have fun.”
John Walsh is a Cleveland-based writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.