Kassandra “Katie” Agee Chandler was born to a blue-collar family from Gary, Indiana. She originally aspired to attend an out of state college following high school graduation. This plan was disrupted when she was contacted by Dr. Cornell Bell of Purdue University. Bell discovered Kassandra Agee during her senior year of high school and persisted in efforts to recruit her for the Business Opportunity Program (BOP) at Purdue, despite Kassandra’s initial desire to live out of state.
Through the BOP, Dr. Bell brought bright and promising students to enroll in the Krannert Business School. The initiative was started after Bell observed that Krannert and other business schools were historically lacking in diversity, which contributed to an overall lack of diversity in the profession of business.
After entering the program, students like Agee received mentorship, tutoring, and a sense of family and belonging at Purdue. Kassandra entered the program in the fall of 1977 and graduated in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from Purdue.
As a sophomore in the fall of 1978, Agee was elected Purdue’s Homecoming Queen, the first and, to date, only African American Homecoming Queen in Purdue’s history. As a representative of Meredith Residence Halls, she competed against 23 other competitors to win her title.
When reflecting later upon the nomination and campaign experience, Kassandra remembered being told, “They’ll never let you win this.” But she drew upon the strength of her faith, family, friends, and dorm-mates, as well as her own tenacity.
She worked tirelessly on her campaign, going door-to-door, speaking with groups across campus, and hanging campaign posters.
She remembered, “I didn’t let it get to me. I never let anyone talk me down…. In the end, I was able to make my family and sisterhood proud…I felt like Cinderella…it was all a collective effort of sisterhood, of campus-hood, of brotherhood.”
After winning, Agee received local and national press, as well as campus and community wide support. Along with the many press releases, newspaper clippings, and congratulatory notes, she was invited to appear in the Rose Bowl Parade alongside the Homecoming Queens from the other Big 10 Universities. As she later said, “I’m a blue collar daughter but I was queen on the campus of Purdue. In sharing my story of what is possible during the most improbable and seemingly impossible time, I hope [to] inspire.”
In addition to her role as Homecoming Queen and a leader for African American students on campus, Agee was also active in extracurricular activities. She was a member of Alpha Lambda Delta freshman honor society, Purdue Pals, and the Black Voices of Inspiration Choir. Agee was also a president and founding member of Purdue’s Society of Minority Managers. She served as a social counselor for the Business Opportunity Program and was a member of the Mortar Board senior honors society.
Her involvement in student activities reflected her leadership role on campus, as well as her excellent academic record.
After graduating from the Krannert School of Management, Agee held positions at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Exxon, Dow Chemical and Procter & Gamble.
In the years since her graduation, she has frequently returned to campus to give presentations on topics ranging from her work in the business world to her experiences as homecoming queen. After years of professional experience working for industry leaders in both the public and private sector, she founded Systematic Design Consultants, where she is the principal consultant. The company is an information technology consulting firm located in Texas.
Agee is also a founding member of the Business Opportunity Program Alumni Network, which seeks to further the legacy of Dr. Cornell Bell and ensure the continued success of the BOP. The Network engages in fundraising, advising, and seeks to provide a support network for BOP alumni by keeping them connected while providing opportunities that will ensure their continued success in the professional business world.
Kassandra Agee Chandler returns to her alma mater this year to serve as grand marshal of the Boilermaker Night Train Homecoming Parade on September 21. This homecoming is particularly special, as Purdue officially launches the start of its sesquicentennial celebrations from fall 2018 through fall 2019.
The Black Cultural Center is offering a display of historical photographs and related items on Kassandra Agee Chandler, on the 2nd floor near the library, through the end of October. We hope you will join us in celebrating Kassandra’s rich life and legacy — at Purdue, and beyond.
MSA 363, Kassandra Agee Chandler papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries, West Lafayette, Indiana
Chandler, Kassandra Agee. “My Pieces of History: A Queen’s Journey to Archival Peace (and Release).” 6 February, 2018, Krannert Auditorium, West Lafayette, Indiana.
Written by Virginia Pleasant. All images from the Kassandra Agee Chandler papers.