Kelli Abar isn't about to stop after finishing what she started.
Abar graduated with a Master of Science in Education – Educational Administration PK-12 Principalship Track from the online program at the University of Wisconsin-Superior in May 2019. She plans to enroll in the Education Specialist (Ed.S.) in Educational Administration Superintendent/District Administrator online program after a summer break.
"I started a master's degree program at Northern Illinois University (NIU), where I got my undergrad, almost 20 years ago," Abar said. "Then, I moved to Texas and worked for Sylvan Learning for 15 years. I never had time to do a degree with work. Since I went to school in the 90's and was dedicated to my career and family, I had never taken an online class in my entire life."
That all changed nearly three years ago when a Dallas-based company hired Abar to work in education-related sales. Less than a year into the job, she enrolled at UW-Superior.
"Finishing the master's degree was something that I always wanted to do," she said. "It just made sense. I knew that I would be able to relate even more to my students. I truly believe the credibility. People trust me when they hear that I've done the program."
Abar lives in Minneapolis and travels extensively for work. She and her husband, Eric, have a daughter, Aria (7), so the fully online format was the only way she could add school to such a full plate and feast on the opportunity to learn.
"Hearing that I have a family and travel for work gives students more hope that they can do an online program, as well," she said. "I say to people all of the time that I am a better mom for doing it online, because you don't ever have to leave your house and can pretty much arrange your schedule around school, which is usually the opposite."
Buzzing for Knowledge
Abar grew up in Mendota, Illinois, and has been surrounded by educators her whole life. Her father, Mike Kilmartin, is a retired teacher and administrator, while her brother, Derek Kilmartin, is an assistant superintendent. She also taught for six years after graduating from NIU with a bachelor's degree in education in 1997.
"It's hard to imagine not being in education," she said. "I did a lot of communicating and brainstorming with my brother about the master's degree program because he is in the midst of earning his doctorate and living it right now. That was fun."
Once Abar decided that earning a degree online was doable, she quickly realized that she wanted to become a Yellowjacket.
"UW-Superior has a very strong reputation for producing a ton of administrators throughout Wisconsin," she said. "They were one of the first administration schools in the state. With it being a small school, you also get more attention."
Once she got her feet wet as an online student, she rolled through the online MSE in Educational Administration program without a hitch.
"I had to have my brother and sister-in-law help me remember how to cite sources when I started the program, which probably took me longer than anything else," Abar said. "Some students I talk to for work worry about living out of state and doing the program. Knowing that I live in Minneapolis is reassuring to them."
EDAD 750: School Law, taught by Tanya Skalecki, was her favorite course in the program and one of eight core courses in the Principlaship track.
"It was the most thought-provoking class, yet it was also so critical to understanding the ins and outs of a school," Abar said. "The professor was so credible and amazing. Many times you have someone who has never taught or been in your shoes.
"Tanya was a special education teacher, a special education director and a principal. Then, she went and got her law degree. I love any course on leadership because it truly helps you refine your skills and allows you to share your talent with others."
Worth the Wait
In addition to earning an MSE in Educational Administration during the last two years, Abar completed certifications in business communication and leadership essentials from the University of Southern California and the University of Notre Dame, respectively.
"I am in the emerging leaders program at my company and I was honored to earn these two certificates as well during my master's program," she said. "They were both awesome. I see myself using everything I have learned to help develop other leaders in the future in any aspect of education or sales."
Although Abar was not able to attend graduation at UW-Superior, she plans to make the trip to walk in the commencement ceremony once she completes the online Ed.S. program.
"My husband was super proud," she said. "He is really encouraging me and is excited that I am going to continue. The program taught me that an administrator's job is extremely challenging, yet very rewarding. You don't have to be alone. There is a community of leaders out there you really need to rely on and look to. I am excited about the Ed.S. program. Why not continue learning and growing?"
Abar, a lifelong sports fan who played volleyball at Illinois Valley Community College, got much more than finishing what she started by completing the master's degree program.
"If you ever see yourself leading in the future, this program is going to give you immediate and lifelong strategies not only as an administrator and teacher, but also as a parent and spouse," she said. "People don't realize how you can glean such valuable information from a leadership degree program that you can apply to your personal and professional life every day."
Learn more about the UW-Superior online MSE – Educational Administration program.
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