Career and technical education graduate overcomes cancer, obstacles of COVID-19 to earn doctorate

Krueger achieves life goal in face of life-changing circumstances
Rachel Krueger crosses the stage to receive her doctorate at the May 2021 commencement.
Abbey Goers | August 12, 2021

Rachel Krueger has worked in education for more than 13 years in admissions and other roles. She is the program mentor for Western Governors University, an online competency-based institution. Her passion is to work directly with students, primarily with adult learners.

“I’m able to connect with students and help them create a path to graduation,” she said. “We brainstorm how to overcome the challenges of work, school and family life.”

As a May graduate of University of Wisconsin-Stout’s Doctor of Education in Career and Technical Education Leadership, Krueger is an adult learner herself and can relate to the students she mentors.

Rachel Krueger, Ed.D. CTEL
Rachel Krueger, Ed.D. CTEL / Rachel Krueger

But in her dream of achieving her doctorate, life got busy with work and family life. Then she was diagnosed with brain cancer. She was treated after she was accepted into the Ed.D. CTEL program and started school in fall 2017, two months after undergoing brain surgery.

This diagnosis and treatment prompted a sense of urgency to re-evaluate my life goals,” said Krueger, of Onalaska, who now is cancer-free. “I realized that my life felt like a book with the last few chapters missing.”

Pushing forward

Krueger chose UW-Stout’s CTEL program because of its flexible blend of hybrid courses, built with adult learners in mind. As a mom of two young children, she needed a school that supported her academic and career goals, as well as her family and work commitments.

While in the program, Krueger lost her grandmother and mother-in-law. “When you’re diagnosed with an illness or lose a family member; it’s life changing,” she said. “You feel and think a different way than before. It provides you a fresh perspective on life’s priorities and makes you realize that life is too short to not pursue your dreams.”

 

Rachel Krueger and her husband.
Rachel Krueger and her husband. / Rachel Krueger

Then, when Krueger began her dissertation, COVID-19 hit. Krueger’s husband, her primary support system, was called to work longer hours in his nursing career, creating obstacles for child care. She helped her daughters with their virtual learning, while managing to focus on her own studies.

"Working full time and managing a household is not an easy task. I counted on my husband and family for support,” Krueger said. “My children’s school became priority over my own. There were many days where I felt frustrated that I was not making the same progress as my peers in my dissertation. While those circumstances created barriers, I was able to push forward."

Staying engaged and motivated

Krueger’s dissertation, “Managing the Healthcare Crisis: The Career Narratives of Nurses,” gave her a sense of obligation to make a difference with her research.

“There were times where I wanted to throw in the towel; however, I knew that I had made it this far and nothing was stopping me,” she said. “I didn’t sacrifice family dinners and time with my kids to not see this through. I owed it to them and myself to finish.”

With the help of CTEL Program Director Urs Haltinner, her dissertation adviser, Krueger created minigoals for herself, working on her dissertation chapter by chapter.

 

CTEL Program Director Urs Haltinner and doctoral graduates Rachel Krueger and Brian Stout at commencement.
CTEL Program Director Urs Haltinner and doctoral graduates Rachel Krueger and Brian Stout at commencement. / Rachel Krueger

“Rachel is tenacious – truly an academic and a thoughtful colleague to her cohort members,” Haltinner said. “She always figured out how to persist. Despite setbacks, she kept marching to the beat. I will miss the conversations with her.”

Krueger enjoyed having meaningful conversations with her cohort, with whom she developed professional and personal friendships. “They helped me stay engaged and motivated,” she said. “I also developed professional relationships with my instructors, who provided me with a diverse perspective of the educational system.”

Meridith Wentz, assistant chancellor of Planning, Assessment, Research and Quality, served on Krueger’s dissertation committee.

“Rachel’s story helps illustrate Stout’s dedication to student success,” she said. “She overcame substantial obstacles in her journey as a doctoral student, but she did not stop. Every day, Stout’s student-centered approach enables people to achieve their dreams – even in the face of a difficult reality.”

Positively impacting others

Krueger believes there is never a right time for an adult learner to further their education. “Life does not stop because you are in school,” she said. “Being an adult learner requires patience. You need to maintain the mentality that it’s not about how long you take to get there, as long as you get there.”

Krueger has a bachelor’s in organizational management from Viterbo University in La Crosse and a master's from Globe University. She received her Ed.D. four years after she started in the program. She presented her dissertation at UW-Stout's CTE Summit in June, where she was introduced as Dr. Rachel Krueger for the first time.

 

Rachel Krueger's daughters.
Rachel Krueger's daughters. / Rachel Krueger

“I realized then; I had done it,” she said. “I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t cry in happiness because my journey had started at such a devastating time in my life, and completing my degree triggered those feelings once again.”

Gaining her Ed.D. has opened the door to continue working in education, in administration and higher education instruction. “Pursuing this degree provides stability and flexibility in a career field that continues to inspire me to positively impact others,” Krueger said. “While I’m not sure what genre my story would fall under exactly if it were a book, my story is certain to have an amazing sequel.”


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