Walsh College President Marsha Kelliher, who is a Rochester-area resident, understands the challenges facing many of the students at her school. After all, she was working in the consulting department of a major auditing firm when she started attending night and weekend classes to earn her master's degree in labor law.
"My goal was to be a college professor after getting my law degree and working in labor, but there was a need to earn a living. That's when I started working at Peat, Marwick, Mitchell full time," she said. "I can relate to students who are juggling their career, education and family. I had too much debt to go on and earn a LLM. That's when I earned my law degree, passed the Texas bar and became a litigator. Later in life, I was able to go back and earn an LLM and move into academia.
"I loved being a college professor," she said. "There's nothing more rewarding than watching someone understand something different."
In 1994 and 1998, Kelliher was named as interim dean of the MBA program at St. Edward's University, in Austin, Texas, marking the beginning of her leadership in academia. From 2000 to 2004, she served as the dean of the graduate school of management. From 2004 to 2013, Kelliher oversaw the university's graduate and undergraduate business programs. She then moved to central Pennsylvania, where she was appointed dean of the Sigmund Weis School of Business at Susquehanna University. She has served at Walsh College in Troy for the past year-and-a-half.
"I was really happy in my other position. I wasn't looking for anything new, and didn't even have a resume ready. A friend of mine contacted me and said I should look into this position," she said. "I also was in the middle of building my dream kitchen, so I dropped it. He called again, and finally I took a look at it... as we were pulling away for my drive to move here, they were finishing up my kitchen in Pennsylvania."
At Walsh, Kelliher is working to address some of the challenges facing today's students. That includes maintaining and increasing savings to students by working with community colleges to save up to $35,000 on their degrees. Cost-cutting measures means just 1 percent of Walsh students are carrying student loan debt to earn their degrees, compared to 13 percent across the state. Overall, she said about 47 percent of undergraduate students are graduating without any federal student loan debt.
"That impressed me," she said. "Along with the strong community impact."
More than 90 percent of Walsh students are from Michigan, and more than 80 percent stay and work in the state.
In terms of challenges, Kelliher said Walsh is looking at innovative ways to bring technology into the curriculum to meet the needs of students and employers. Long past are the days when the professor at the head of the classroom is the sole fountain of knowledge. Blended classes and online formats, including artificial intelligence, are now part of the classroom experience.
Spending the majority of her life in Texas and California, she's now re-adjusting to a state with four distinctive seasons. She's also discovering some of the treats unique to Michigan.
"I had no idea that cider and donuts were such a delicious combination," she said, suggesting there are no regrets on her or her husband's decision. "I'm very pleased with the kitchen I now have."
Photo: Laurie Tennent