Kathleen McFadden
Distinguished Donor & Award Winning Faculty Member

At a young age Dr. Kathleen McFadden recalls asking her father a thoughtful question—his answer, emotional and wise, carried with her throughout her life. A native of Hungary, McFadden’s father had left his home country in 1957 during the Hungarian Revolution, where he served as a judge and a lawyer and moved to the United States before she was born. In order to continue his career in the U.S., he would have had to attend law school again and pass the Bar Exam at age 44.

Instead, McFadden’s father took a manual labor job and the family felt the financial impact. Sensitive to this, McFadden asked her father one fateful day, “Do you feel sad you cannot be a judge or a lawyer in this country?” Her father pointed to his head and simply replied, “No, nobody can take away your knowledge.”


McFadden, NIU College of Business Operations Management & Information Systems (OM&IS) Professor and Dean’s Circle member, says this brief conversation had a direct impact on the choices she made which got her to where she is today. “I learned at a young age that education was important,” she says. McFadden became financially independent after graduating high school and obtained scholarships while attending college.

After receiving her B.A. in economics and her M.B.A., she got married and moved to North Dakota where her husband, Tracey, was an active duty Air Force pilot. There she began teaching at the college level on the Air Force base. “I taught anything they let me,” recalls McFadden, “but my favorite subject to teach was operations.” Later she secured a job at the University of North Dakota. While teaching there her colleagues told her that if she wanted to make a career of teaching that she needed to go for her doctorate degree. The family moved to Dallas/Fort Worth where McFadden obtained her doctorate from University of Texas-Arlington and Tracey piloted for American Airlines. McFadden shares, “I am very proud that I went back to school with a one year old daughter at the time and finished in four years.”

McFadden began exploring NIU after meeting College of Business professors at a conference. Learning more about the college and its programs, she knew NIU was where she wanted to be—and there was a job opening! Over 20 years later, McFadden is a full professor and “loving every minute of it.”

OM&IS Department Chair, Dr. Chang Liu, says Dr. McFadden has made tremendous contributions to the department, college, and the university. “She is an excellent professor and top researcher in the department. She is always willing to take time out of her busy schedule to work closely with students to ensure that they clearly understand the topics.” Impressively, last year Dr. McFadden received national recognition on three separate occasions, by winning highly competitive research awards at academic conferences for three separate research studies.

McFadden has always given to the combined faculty scholarship within the OM&IS department. However, when Chris and Lorraine Millington—longtime friends of the College of Business—created a challenge to establish new OM&IS scholarships, McFadden accepted the challenge utilizing the Millington’s match and created the Dr. Kathleen McFadden Community Service Scholarship.

“I wanted to give back to NIU to support my students,” says McFadden. “If it hadn’t been for generous donors during my schooling, I wouldn’t be a tenured professor at NIU. I believe in what we are doing here and my scholarship is given to students that emulate quality, hard work, and service to others.”

McFadden lives in Campton Township with her husband, Tracey. Their oldest daughter, Kady, is the Illinois Chapter Deputy Director of the Sierra Club, and their youngest, Kristin, is a singer/songwriter at Oberlin College. McFadden enjoys running and strength training, music, reading, and travel.

McFadden’s Research Highlights

Dr. Kathleen L. McFadden is an internationally-recognized expert in the areas of healthcare and transportation safety and quality. Her research has appeared in not only top-tier academic journals, but also through other media outlets such as ABC News, FOX News, and the Chicago Sun-Times. Working with the Federal Aviation Administration, McFadden has served as a contract researcher and expert witness, and received two research grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation to study pilot-error accidents. She has published over 35 articles in leading academic journals on strategies for reducing errors and improving processes in both healthcare and aviation. In addition, she has given over 100 managerial talks and/or conference presentations worldwide.

McFadden was awarded the Anthony and Christine Speiser Faculty Research Fellowship in 2014 and the Millington Research Fellow Award in 2015. Over the past two years she has been designated as a Global Research Fellow, which involves working with and traveling to ENAE University in Murcia, Spain to mentor professors and conduct collaborative research. While on sabbatical this semester, Dr. McFadden will return to Bordeaux, France to once again teach a graduate operations management course.

Most recently, McFadden and her co-authors, David Dobrzykowski and Mark Vonderembse, won a best paper award at the 2015 Decision Sciences Institute (DSI) conference. Their paper entitled, "Testing the moderation effects of governance mechanisms on strategy, structure/processes and performance in hospitals" was selected as the winner of the 2015 DSI Best Lean Enterprise Paper Award.

At the same conference, McFadden and her co-author, Greg Stock, received the 2015 DSI Best Application Paper Award for their paper entitled, "Empirical Analysis of Patient Safety Culture and Hospital Performance Using the AHRQ Survey on Patient Safety Culture."

McFadden enjoys her research in aviation and healthcare specifically because it can have a real impact.

Having won numerous teaching and research awards, McFadden brings her business collaborations and international expertise into the classroom for the benefit of her students.

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