Mother-daughter doctoral grads are the first in Stritch history

Jan. 13, 2014

Kristin Kellner Schulz was greeted by a familiar face on the stage when she graduated with a doctoral degree in leadership at Stritch’s December commencement ceremony: her own mother, Mary Kellner. Kristin’s Dad, Ted Kellner, as well as Kristin’s husband, Ryan, and 3-year-old daughter, Vivian, cheered from the front row of the U.S. Cellular Arena in downtown Milwaukee.

Kristin followed in the footsteps of her mother, Mary, a noted civic leader and member of Stritch’s Board of Trustees, who also received a doctoral degree in leadership from Stritch in 2007. The pair represents the first mother-daughter doctoral program graduates in University history. Given that only 1.7 million Americans have earned a terminal degree, Kristin and Mary are among the very few mother-daughter combinations who earned doctorates.

As an alumna of the program, Mary encouraged her daughter to apply to the doctoral program. And as a member of Stritch’s Board of Trustees, Mary Kellner was on the stage to congratulate all of Stritch’s doctoral graduates, which in this case includes her own daughter.

“I am sure part of my love of learning and genuine curiosity comes from my relationship with my mom,” Kristin said. “I was the kid who asked ‘Why?’ every five minutes and my mom always encouraged it.”

According to Kristin, Mary was a mentor throughout the program.

“Daily life does not stop when pursing a higher degree and like all of my classmates, things got super busy,” Kristin said. “During the program, I got married, moved twice, had a baby, and completed a dissertation. My mom's constant support and encouragement, on multiple levels, was invaluable to receiving my degree. She understood firsthand about life as an academic.”

Mary Kellner, who has spent the last 16 years volunteering and offering critical leadership at numerous nonprofit organizations, could easily relate to the discipline and time management skills needed to complete the doctoral program.

“I know how much work you have to put into this -- how long you spend late at night writing papers,” she said. “I think that we will always be bonded by the experience that we both went through.”

Kristin, who has served as an adjunct faculty member at Marquette University, completed her doctoral dissertation on “Clinical Depression and Meaningmaking.” Her ongoing work in the area of mental health continues a family tradition of engaged social action.

“My passion for mental health came about in my early 20s when I honestly didn't know the difference between mental and physical health,” Kristin said. “I came to understand mental health because of personal experiences with family and friends and quickly saw the dangers of stigma and misinformation surrounding it.

“My dissertation highlights eight individuals who have gone beyond acceptance to embracing their mental illnesses and associating positive meaning from it. Mental health is such a complex public health issue and all too often portrayed negatively; I hope my contributions are positive and illustrate people can lead fulfilling lives once they learn how to manage their diagnosis.”

Mary is proud of her daughter’s scholarly contributions to the cause of mental health, as well as her longtime advocacy. Kristin serves on the Board of Directors for the Grand Avenue Club, a mental health support network in Milwaukee County, and is also the co-chair of Mental Health America.

“Kristin realized that the stigma with depression is so great,” Mary said. “She has been very passionate about educating people about depression, helping people understand that it is a relatively common challenge. It can be managed and can be treated as a disease.”

Mary said she will always treasure the memory of embracing her daughter on the commencement stage, and is immensely proud of the work that her daughter produced as a result of the program. It is work that embraces the Franciscan core of the University.

Mary and Ted Kellner, executive chairman and founder of Milwaukee-based Fiduciary Management, were and are role models for their daughter, Kristin, because of their active role in giving back to the community. The Kellners are well-known throughout Milwaukee for their tireless efforts to improve quality of life in southeastern Wisconsin.

Among the organizations impacted by the Kellners: Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Milwaukee College Prep, Milwaukee Humane Society, The Nehemiah Project Inc., Next Door Foundation, to name a few.

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