Kristen Ruhl

Kristen Ruhl serves as the Program Director at SecureFutures in Milwaukee, WI. Ruhl is responsible for managing the program team that implements SecureFutures’ programming throughout the state of Wisconsin. She also leads efforts to build community partnerships with key stakeholders in the education, nonprofit and business sectors to expand the organization’s reach and impact.

Before joining SecureFutures, Ruhl led programming and delivered client services at other Wisconsin-based nonprofits, including Interfaith Older Adult Programs and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society – Wisconsin Chapter. Prior to that, she graduated with a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Northwestern University, after completing her bachelor’s degree at Ball State University (Psychology & Philosophy double major).

Ruhl is a born and bred Midwesterner having grown up in northern Illinois before pursuing her education in Muncie and Chicago, and eventually settling in Milwaukee. She is continually inspired by the students she has met through SecureFutures and the great heights they have reached as a result of becoming financially capable and empowered.


What did you study while you were at Ball State? 

I was a double major in Psychology and Philosophy, and I graduated in 2008.
Other meaningful aspects of my education came through the Honors College and the Virginia Ball Center for Creative Inquiry. I definitely leaned into the Humanities. 


What is your career now? 

I am the Program Director at a nonprofit, SecureFutures, in Milwaukee, WI. I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector since graduating with a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology in 2010.


What does a typical week in your position look like? 

I manage a team of five, so I spend a lot of time meeting with staff and keeping everyone motivated and focused on their own projects and tasks. I do a lot of problem solving and decision making in my role, so that means time spent reflecting, planning and brainstorming. I’m also responsible for reporting on all of our programmatic impact, so some amount of data collection, survey/outcome measurement tool development, and data analysis usually figures into every week. LOTS of emails, lots of written and verbal communication. 
I am responsible for a number of bigger initiatives for the organization, so that translates to project management, basically taking a project from inception to implementation to evaluation. My projects are all at different points in that process, so I have to jump from mode to mode throughout the week (or day). Sometimes I’m really hands-on (developing curriculum, training volunteers, writing manuals, etc.), other times I’m doing more analysis, planning or delegation management. 


What are the most valuable skills you learned in your major? 

For Philosophy, I would say critical and analytical thinking, communication skills (written and verbal), and intellectual perseverance.

For Psychology, probably data analysis, research skills, and a start to understanding other people. My master’s degree taught me how to use empathy, maintain boundaries, and really listen, and how to synthesize disparate information into a coherent narrative.

Of course, it also increased my understanding of people from a behavioral and emotional standpoint. My ethical and moral compass was also strongly influenced by the Honors College’s Humanities sequence and my Philosophy classes.

 

How are the skills you learned as a Philosophy student relevant to your career and life today? 

My career has taken a few zig-zags over the years and my ability to excel in each situation is due to the skills I gained through my education. My ability to analyze a problem, think through all the possible solutions and obstacles, and implement a plan to solve the issue has served me well in my career (and my life).  Being pushed to work through complex concepts and come out the other side with new knowledge showed me that I can succeed in difficult situations.
It has given me the confidence to take on new responsibilities that I have no previous experience in. I don’t always succeed right away, but I always figure it out. Knowing how to teach myself new skills makes me an adaptable and valuable member of a team. Additionally, I know what I believe and I know how to defend my positions. Philosophy taught me how to speak for myself and remain confident when confronted with differing opinions. This comes in handy all the time, both professionally and personally.


What is your advice to other Humanities students? 

I think that the value that you gain from a Humanities degree is all of the professional skills that you can develop, maybe more than the course content you are learning. The way you turn a Humanities major into a career is to be the best prepared and developed professional possible.

Anyone can learn the nuts and bolts of a job, but knowing how to think is something special.

You can really set yourself apart from your colleagues and accelerate your advancement by knowing how to think for yourself and communicate. I think one of the best things that Humanities students can do is to deeply engage with the material they are learning to develop those critical thinking and communication skills.

Don’t just memorize facts and regurgitate theories for papers, projects, and tests. Take advantage of the opportunities to reflect and debate. Solicit feedback from your peers and professors. Get comfortable receiving constructive criticism and use it to improve your work. Seek out leadership roles. Choose an area of study that piques your curiosity and fascinates you, then mine it for growth opportunities. Those are the experiences that will serve you in your career, no matter what it ends up being. It’s pretty unique to have the opportunity to pursue all of that in an undergraduate degree; many other courses of study don’t prioritize those experiences, so take full advantage.