Success: Kristin McKinley

Poor weather was not going to derail a campus visit for Kristin Austin McKinley, because Mount Mercy University wouldn’t let it.

“Due to the weather, we were prepared to cancel the Mount Mercy campus visit,” McKinley said about her first attempt to visit campus. “But to our surprise they volunteered to pick us up in Chicago on another weekend, take us to campus, and drive us back to Chicago. That made an impression.”

“[Mount Mercy] fostered a lifelong love of learning and critical thinking, all of which opened up many doors to various career paths.”

Kristin (Austin) McKinley ‘95
Director of Research Administration
Lawrence University, Appleton, WI
Combined Locks, WI

McKinley said the campus visit was what sealed the deal for her. She found at Mount Mercy a liberal arts institution with small class sizes, a focus on quality academics, scholarship opportunities, and students who were accepting of everyone regardless of differences. Add to this the tunnel system and not having to go outside too much in winter.

She also notes the significant gifts of Mount Mercy employees:

“There are caring staff and faculty who will do what they can to help students succeed—although I did not realize the depth of this at first,” McKinley said. “Much of my research and internship experience [while at MMU] allowed me to blend my knowledge from both fields of my study—biology and psychology—exposing many professional opportunities. I always enjoyed doing research, as evident by my interest in undergraduate presentations and publications, but did not realize the significant impact it had until much later in life.”

Another important experience at MMU was an internship, which Professor of Biology Neil Bernstein, PhD, helped her set up with Dr. Stanley Eilers in the Pathology Department at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids—the first such internship offered with Dr. Eilers. She was also one of four students to receive the Outstanding Senior in Biology Award in 1995. McKinley, Dr. Bernstein, and Dr. Ron Feldt have remained in contact since she graduated.

Just as her initial campus visit to MMU took a different course than she had expected, McKinley also did not end up in the career field she initially intended. But she said that is the value of a Mount Mercy liberal arts education.

“It fostered a lifelong love of learning and critical thinking, all of which opened up many doors to various career paths,” McKinley said. “I found a career that I love, and one I never even knew existed as an undergraduate or graduate student. Being open to and willing to take advantage of opportunities led me to my current career.”

McKinley also formed lasting relationships during her time at Mount Mercy—including meeting her husband [Ryan McKinley ‘95]. She says she wouldn’t change a thing about her experience.

And since her tenure at Mount Mercy, McKinley has certainly made many important impressions on the world, and continues to do so today with innovative research and in leadership roles which truly benefit the lives of people. It has not been a straight path, as it rarely is for any of us, but it has been very successful in all expressions of the word.

From using her clinical psychology and research skills to develop, implement, and evaluate a nationally recognized campus-wide suicide prevention program, to truly impacting the local community with her efforts and initiatives in mental health, to leadership and grassroots work positions with the PTA, Scholastic Book Fairs, YMCA, and currently volunteering with FIRST Robotics Team 93 (New Apple Corps), Pacesetters of the Fox Cities (St. Joseph’s Food Pantry 5K), and Ghost Town Fitness (Service Saturdays).

“My Mount Mercy education built the foundation for my success today,” she said. “It was the first fundamental step on a long journey, but I have lived out its mission and values throughout.  I discovered along the way a lot about myself including my strengths and weaknesses, leadership capabilities, and values.

“While at Mount Mercy, I developed self-confidence and a willingness to step outside my comfort zone—trying new experiences, taking on challenges, and taking risks. I would not have had the flexibility to change career paths, from mental health therapist to stay-at-home mom to institutional researcher, without my liberal arts education.”

Kristin’s List of Advice for Current & Prospective Students

  1. Never underestimate the difference you can make in the lives of others.
  2. Step outside your comfort zone. Be open to possibilities and take advantage of opportunities as you never know where they will lead.
  3. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Be an empathic listener.
  4. Commit to learning one new thing a day for the rest of your life.
  5. Know when to ask for help. Learn to say no.  
  6. Find your passion and follow it.
  7. Create your own legacy. Leave your mark on the world, whether it be personal or professional.

Be a Mustang. Success Follows.