First of a kind
By Kathy Greif Berken ’71
As the first graduate of St. Norbert’s new Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program, Shane Kohl ’12 says his coursework hasn’t just made him a better employee – it’s made him a better person, too.
Why would someone who hadn’t written more than an e-mail or memo in the past decade, who hadn’t set foot in a classroom in 14 years, and who already had a fulfilling job, return to school to earn a master’s degree that he did not think he needed, in a field that seemed far from his chosen profession? Ask Shane Kohl, the first candidate for St. Norbert’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies degree (MLS). Wondering these same things, he almost went home before he attended his first class.
|Shane Kohl (left) and Michael Marsden (English) meet periodically while Kohl works on the dissertation that will complete his master’s studies.
“I pulled into the parking lot behind the admissions building. I thought to myself, ‘It’s not too late to change your mind,’” Kohl says. He had cold feet, thinking he could be out on the golf course or at home with his wife instead. Now, with diploma in hand, he’s glad he stayed.
An Appleton, Wis., native, Kohl graduated in 1996 with a bachelor’s in communications processes from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay – where he met his wife, Sheila. He started a career in fundraising for regional nonprofit organizations. From Green Bay’s CP Center, he went to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, then returned to UWGB to work in the development office. Most recently, he took a development position in his hometown, at the Trout Museum of Art.
Motivated by Sheila’s completion of her master’s in education, Kohl searched for an institution offering an advanced degree focused on what he enjoyed about his undergraduate experience – “the exchange of ideas, the concepts involving critical thinking, the strengthening of oral and written communication skills as well as the range of opportunities the major offered in terms of career paths.” The college’s MLS program, brand-new in 2009, fit the bill.
Hear Shane Kohl talk about his MLS experience. >>MORE
Kohl met with program director Howard Ebert (Religious Studies) and loved the idea that St. Norbert would choose to build a new graduate program based on its widely recognized undergraduate liberal arts curriculum.
He also appreciated that he would earn his master’s in a classroom setting. “I have nothing against online delivery,” he says, “but I’m a people person. I wanted to learn from and with others in a dynamic environment, not from a computer screen.”
The six students in his first class – Introduction to Liberal Studies, taught by Michael Marsden (English) – each came with a different background, life story and motivation. “We bonded quickly,” Kohl says. Often their classroom discussions “would spill out into the parking lot after class or continue via e-mail throughout the week.”
Brenda Busch ’93, who began the MLS journey with Kohl, valued her classmate’s inquisitive nature and sense of humor. She says he always “asked the tough questions gently.”
Another member of the MLS cohort, Nancy Fecteau, says Kohl didn’t speak up about a subject unless he had a well-thought-out point to make.
Marsden says, “Shane sought to broaden his horizons by building upon his undergraduate degree and exploring the rich history and traditions of the liberal arts and sciences and their role in the contemporary world. Shane has proven to be a wonderful leader among the other students in the program, modeling for others the importance of living the examined life.”
For Kohl, the examined life is a changed life. He says the MLS program has equipped him to “think critically and to view situations from different perspectives” and made him a stronger communicator and a “better employee, husband and person.”
The program’s first graduate captures its essence by paraphrasing Don Abel (Philosophy). As Kohl’s ethics professor, Abel described his course as a class about problems, not solutions; likewise, Kohl says of the MLS, “This is a program about ideas and issues of lifetime learning.”
March 22, 2012