Alumna Spotlight: Karen McKinley

Karen McKinley
Karen McKinley

Supervisory Management grad serves as senior social worker for Hennepin County

Originally from Minnepolis, Minnesota, Karen McKinley graduated from Dakota County Technical College in 2009 with diplomas in Supervisory Management (now the Business Management A.A.S.) and Multicultural Leadership. Karen went on to earn a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Human Services from Saint Mary’s University. She has also completed Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) coursework at the University of St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota.

Karen serves as a senior social worker for Hennepin County. Her work is centered on waivered services for elderly and disabled individuals via the CADI, Elderly Waiver (EW) and Alternative Care (AC) programs.

“I meet with individuals to determine their continued eligibility for waivered services that allow them to remain independent and living in the community,” Karen said.

More about Karen…

Karen graduated from Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis. Her long-time partner, Fabio Rozo, works for MNsure and is an ultra-marathon runner. Fabio was instrumental in helping Karen develop her own love for running.

She runs three times a week with Lakeville Moms on the Run. She has participated in 5K, 10K and half-marathon events, including Disney races in Florida and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Merida 10K in Mexico. Karen will be running her first marathon at Walt Disney World in January 2019.

Karen’s son, Ryan, attended the University of North Dakota and participated in Air Force ROTC. He earned a B.S. in Aviation and went on to serve at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, Alaska. Ryan is now in the pilot training program with the U.S. Air Force and stationed in Oklahoma.

Karen loves to travel and has visited Paris and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. She and Fabio reside in Farmington with their cat, Jeff, a 16-year-old American Applehead Siamese.

Karen McKinley | Q & A

Karen McKinley

Karen McKinley

Why did you choose human services as your career field?
I chose the human services field because I was currently working in the field and wanted to increase my employment and advancement opportunities. I had a 20-year career working with Economic Assistance, interviewing individuals and helping them access public assistance benefits and community resources. I wanted to parlay that experience with education to increase my job opportunities, leadership options and income.

What did you like best about attending DCTC?
The first thing that struck me about DCTC was that the college was flexible, supportive, unique and innovative. DCTC supported my goals.

How did your Multicultural Leadership diploma help with your career as a human services professional?
It was the only program I could find that offered training in diversity and multicultural leadership, which was an interest of mine. The program was accessible with a satellite location in my neighborhood. The professors went above and beyond to inspire us, and taught us to be critical and creative thinkers vs copy, paste and memorize.

Going through the Multicultural Leadership program as a cohort offered us the opportunity to not just learn, but to challenge our growth individually and as a group. I cannot say enough about DCTC and the Business and Multicultural programs in particular.

What advice would you give nontraditional students about pursuing a college education?
The main advice is to just start! It’s one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. Choose a school that supports nontraditional students with a variety of classroom options from online, evening, weekend and has a history of working with nontraditional students. Talk to the advisors, professors, financial aid professionals and use the resources the school offers. Look for a school that offers flexibility and understands the needs of nontraditional students, and values the experience they bring.

Three words that describe you as a social worker:

What advice would you give someone thinking about a career in human services?
Human services is a broad field that offers a lot of career opportunities, from social services to health to public administration and management. Define your areas of interest. Volunteer to gain experience and build your resume. Human services is a wonderful opportunity to help others and a rewarding profession with a lot of career options.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job as Senior Social Worker with Hennepin County?
The most rewarding aspect is always making that connection with the person I’m serving, knowing they have had a chance to tell their story and be heard, and being able to partner with them to meet their needs and find solutions.  Knowing that people feel a little bit better after we’ve met is very important to me. Then we can focus together on the big stuff, like setting up services or creating a safety plan.

What has been your toughest challenge in life?
The year I started at DCTC was my greatest challenge. I had just become an empty-nester and was learning to focus on my needs versus that of my son. I committed to a lot that year—full-time student, full-time job, leadership training, a peer cohort and Diversity Committee. I was stretched to the limit and had more to do than I had time. It was a challenging, but exhilarating year!

What is your greatest accomplishment so far?
I’m really proud of my son, Ryan—he has become a great person with a great career. I like to think I played a big part in that!

My greatest personal accomplishment has been the work I’ve done; I’ve worked in human services for 31 years and am still passionate about the work and the people I serve. My greatest work accomplishment has been my work with Child Protection and Indian Child Welfare. My goal was to find relatives that could be licensed as foster parents and/or permanency options for children, so they could return home to their families, their culture and their routines.

Multicultural Management 10-year anniversary

In fall semester 2008, Harold Torrence and Scott Gunderson, business management faculty at DCTC, began teaching a 33-credit Multicultural Supervisory diploma program. Harold and Scott designed the diploma to improve enrollment and graduation rates for students from populations historically underserved and underrepresented in higher education. The program was the result of an Initiative to Promote Excellence in Student Learning (IPESL) Institutional Award Project.

“Our main goal was to shrink the communication gap between mainstream, native-speaking supervisors and English Language Learning (ELL) employees with diverse cultural backgrounds,” Harold said, relating that the current Multicultural Leadership diploma, Multicultural Human Resources Management diploma and Multicultural Supervision certificate are now mainstays of the college’s Business department. “Our original Multicultural Supervisory diploma was one of the first of its kind in the country.”

The program’s curriculum brought  mainstream and underrepresented students together in teams that explored challenging multicultural case studies and realistic business simulations. This core strategy gave minority students the skills they needed to advance professionally in Minnesota’s business community. Native-speaking students learned ways to better navigate an increasingly diverse workplace.

“This diploma was a proactive response to the rapidly changing demographics in our state,” Scott said. “More and more minority students were opting for higher education, which meant we needed to find smart and creative ways to help them succeed. Today, ten years later, increasingly diverse labor markets continue to expand cultural and language barriers in Minnesota’s business environments. Graduates of our Multicultural Management diploma and certificate programs are equipped to bridge that divide.”

Scott Gunderson and Harold Torrence circa 2008

Scott Gunderson and Harold Torrence circa 2008

Karen McKinley | 21 Answers

  1. Favorite Season:  Summer
  2. Favorite natural feature (e.g., waterfalls, oceans, mountains, etc.): Lakes
  3. Favorite sport or physical activity: Running
  4. National bird if you could have one: Dove
  5. Place you would most like to visit: Thailand
  6. Favorite holiday: Christmas
  7. Your national mammal if you could have one: Moose
  8. Favorite actor: Matthew McConaughey
  9. Favorite band: Los Lonely Boys
  10. Your personal motto if you had to have one:  “Live with intention—choose your destiny, follow your dreams, do what fills your soul. Be authentic. Don’t be afraid to start. Life is too short to settle.”
  11. Coolest thing in the world: Sunrise over the ocean
  12. Scariest thing in the world: Roller coasters and heights
  13. Favorite all-time TV show: Gilmore Girls
  14. Favorite all-time movie: Meet the Parents
  15. One thing you most want to accomplish in life: It is important to me to know I have made a difference, to help people, to change perceptions. I want to be one tiny piece of the mosaic that makes the world a better place.
  16. Most valuable material possession: My Toyota Yaris
  17. First thing you would buy if you won the $1.5 billion Powerball: A new house somewhere warm and tropical!
  18. Dream occupation: If I wasn’t a social worker, I’d be a travel agent.
  19. Person you would most like to meet: Jimmy Carter
  20. Skill you would most like to learn and master: Latin dance
  21. Humankind’s greatest challenge: Tolerance. We need to accept, value and appreciate each other. So many of our world’s challenges come from our lack of understanding and acceptance of each other. At the end of the day, we are more alike than different.
Learn more about Business Management and Multicultural Management programs at DCTC by contacting:

Harold Torrence
Business Management Faculty

Scott Gunderson
Business Management Faculty