Once she found her calling, the Crete campus alumna used her artistic talents to fund graduate school.
BY JENIFER CALANDRA WILLIS
PHOTOS BY ANDREW MATTSON
Walk into Kathryn Reynolds Naughton’s ’11, ’18A small kitchen, and don’t be surprised if you see paint drippings and smears on the floor, walls and dining table, or assorted paintbrushes strewn around.
It isn’t a child’s mess; it’s how Kathryn is paying for graduate school.
She knew she wanted to pursue a master’s degree, and even began a counseling program at an Omaha college. When she realized becoming a counselor wasn’t her calling, she took a year off school to work.
By chance, Kathryn happened to accompany a friend to a job fair to lend her support, and ended up visiting the table of her alma mater, Doane College. That’s where she met Colleen Haack, an adjunct professor for Doane’s School of Graduate and Professional Studies, and they talked about the Master of Arts in Management program. Haack explained that the program would help Kathryn, an alumna of Doane’s Crete campus, reach her goals: creating a difference in her community by managing a nonprofit with boots-on-the-ground outreach, before eventually teaching at the collegiate level.
“I had such a good experience at Doane as an undergraduate that my gut told me that’s the best place for me to be,” said Kathryn, who has a bachelor’s degree in theatre.
The problem was paying for the program’s tuition.
“I wanted it really bad, but I had no idea how I was going to afford it,” she said. “I just knew I needed to do it.”
As she mulled over how she would pay for a graduate degree, Kathryn—with no formal art training—busied herself with creating artwork for her new house and posting photos of her work on her Facebook profile. Friends began asking her if she took orders for custom pieces.
“I got really excited and ran into my house one day and announced, ‘I am going to paint my way through college!’” she said.
After a few setbacks from little success at art fairs, she began selling solely on Facebook and by word-of-mouth.
Kathryn quickly raised $4,000, but still needed more money to justify starting school. Then, by chance, her employer increased their tuition reimbursement benefit, which put her at half of her tuition. She could start school. Her first call was to Haack.
“We kept in touch and talked about the different ways she could complete the program,” Haack recounts. “During our initial meeting, I could see the spark was lit. I wasn’t surprised that she was going to find a way to make it happen.”
Kathryn estimates she’s sold at least 100 paintings so far, and each painting sells for $200 at most.
“Because I work in the nonprofit sector, I’m very into being able to sell things at an affordable price, so I keep my prices really low,” she said. “Now that people can afford original art, they’re excited about buying paintings and are more likely to be return customers.”
With her classes started at Doane’s Omaha campus, Kathryn turned to new methods of managing her time, which is split among coursework, her job and her art. She and her husband, a fellow artist, hung a chalkboard in the paint-filled kitchen. On it, Kathryn keeps a list of the paintings she needs to complete with their deadlines. Seeing the timeline motivates her to stay on task.
And while she’s relieved she raised enough money to start school, she’s still scared of not fully reaching her goal.
“I don’t think the feeling is ever going away until I actually see the money in the bank,” Kathryn said. “It’s not a constant source of income.”
But not having to take out a loan, for her, is empowering.
“We put so many limitations on what we can and can’t do,” she said. “I think I send a message for people who want to see a long-term goal happen by accomplishing it.”