When Kathy Koehler (MPA’98) came to O’Neill, she was already entrenched in the working world. She had earned her undergraduate degree in psychology because she wanted to help people.
“I started out wanting to help children,” she says. “In learning more about what kids were going through, I saw issues in the educational system and decided it would be more effective to try to change government systems rather than help individual children.”
That led her into state government where she worked for multiple agencies before eventually joining Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration.
“I really felt the human services area was a way to help children and all people, which is what I had been searching for,” she explains. “I’m a government nerd and think we should provide good government services and safety nets to make sure people are alright.”
But she knew she would need a robust policy knowledge base to be as effective as possible. So, while she worked in state government during the day, she returned to the classroom by night.
“I was looking at grad schools for public policy, and I was very conscious of who’s the best and wanting to go to the best programs,” she says. “O’Neill was right at the top of the list and it was here at home. I couldn’t have planned it better.”
Koehler says she’s encountered O’Neill alumni everywhere she’s worked—and she’s watched the network grow tremendously in government and in the consulting industry, where she works now.
“They’ve realized how smart O’Neill graduates are,” she says proudly. “O’Neill alumni understand the big picture of complex issues and how all the different sectors—nonprofit, public, and private—interact.”
Koehler now runs her own consulting firm, Koehler Partners, developing training programs and more for government entities and private businesses. She says she’s working with more and more O’Neill alumni, and she’s found they’re often a perfect fit at her company due to their skills and passion.
“As an employer, I want someone who cares,” she admits. “Everyone who goes to O’Neill cares about the world being a little better and people having a decent life.”
That’s one reason she’s stayed connected with O’Neill, IUPUI, and Indiana University. She’s worked with IU Executive Education and the IU Public Policy Institute, serves on the O’Neill Distinguished Alumni Council, and is a member of the IU Alumni Association’s Executive Council.
Koehler has spent countless hours helping to organize and participate in events that support current and former O’Neill students, fundraising for scholarships, speaking to students in classes, and providing input on what’s going on beyond the halls of O’Neill.
In 2018, IUPUI recognized her dedication to the university with its Maynard K. Hine Medal. In June 2023, the IU Alumni Association honored her with its Volunteer Leadership Award—recognizing her years of service to and advocacy for the university and its alumni.
“I really enjoy the work I do with O’Neill,” she says with a big smile. “I don’t need an award, but it’s very sweet that they want to give me one.”
Koehler says her commitment to O’Neill comes not only from what she experienced as a student but also because of the school’s focus on working to make a difference right now in the community.
“I enjoy how much O’Neill engages with communities and tries to improve actual practice by ensuring people are making good policy decisions,” she says. “We think about what we’re learning on the academic side and how that applies to real-life practice.”
That often comes through partnerships with organizations and keeping an open line of communication with alums. But Koehler says maintaining a strong O’Neill network is about more than making connections—it’s about providing support during the difficult times that come to those in public service.
“I think it’s important to keep our spirits up,” she says. “This work can be difficult. Wanting to make changes in the world or pursue a greater good, these are not things that are easily accomplished. Knowing others who share that mission helps keep you motivated and reminds you why you do what you do—and that’s why I do what I do.”