Graduation is a family affair for four U master’s students

by Robin Huiras

Graduation ceremonies are typically a time for families to celebrate the achievements of their son or daughter. Rarely, however, are four immediate family members able to celebrate graduating on the same day.
On June 14, Kathleen Nash, her son Christopher Schons, her daughter Heather Ellis, and her daughter’s husband Blake will be graduating with master’s degrees from the University.
Although not planned, and for different reasons, the decision to extend their educations at the University seemed the natural choice. In addition to the comforts of studying close to home, the family agreed the University’s programs fit their needs.
“I returned to Minnesota because I’m comfortable here,” Schons said. “I investigated the Humphrey Institute and liked the program.”
The other three relatives were wooed into the Carlson School of Management.
“I was at a midpoint in my career when I first entered Carlson,” Nash said, “and decided it was strategically beneficial for me to go back and finish school.”
Blake Ellis said having three family members attend the same school provided a unique closeness among them and was very beneficial.
“Going to school together has made it a lot easier to understand and relate to what the other is going through,” he said.
He added that the occasional shared classes coupled with similar subject matter can make for interesting conversations. “When there’s an opportunity to talk about class it helps, plus you get decent grades and you’re smart.”
Although being able to compare professors, classes and what is being taught is an advantage for the family, Heather Ellis said competition sometimes arises. The family members often tried to outscore each other in shared classes and compared test results, she said.
The commonality the family now shares was prevented previously by their diverse backgrounds.
Nash said she began her college career in the mid-1960s, but did not know what field to pursue. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Carlson, raising a family and working in several job areas, school seemed like unfinished business. She said going back to get a master’s degree was strategically beneficial.
Schons’ path to the University had many twists and turns, as well. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in English from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in the mid-1980s, he lived and taught English in Guatemala for several years. Schons said there he became attuned to many Third World issues and wanted to explore them in an academic environment.
After attaining her bachelor’s degree in political science and psychology in 1993 from Tufts University in Washington D.C., Heather Ellis joined the work force for a couple years and then decided to further her education at Carlson in marketing.
When Blake Ellis married Heather in 1995, he already had a mechanical engineering degree from the University. Realizing he wanted more, the program at Carlson had what he wanted. “An M.B.A. really rounds out the engineering degree — it puts me in good standing for a management position at a technical firm.”
Although the family enjoys studying together and helping each other with classes, outside of class their interests turn away from school and toward future opportunities.
As they near graduation, Schons said the family will not soon forget the University and the advancements it has allowed them. However, they are nonetheless eager to graduate.
“Since the fall we have known that we would be graduating at the same time, and we tried to get it done together,” Nash said.
Eagerly anticipating the ceremony, the group graduation promotes togetherness. It will be a more enjoyable family event with all of them graduating, Nash added.
Unfortunately, graduation ceremonies for the Carlson School and the Humphrey Institute on June 14 might overlap, and attending both ceremonies might pose a problem. A 10 a.m. Carlson ceremony immediately followed by a 1 p.m. Humphrey commencement will make for rushed relatives.
As for future plans, each member understands the opportunities a master’s degree has given them. By going to get a master’s, it shows that a person is willing to expand their horizons, Blake Ellis said.