Student Commencement Speaker Kelsi Engelhardt finds ‘Safe Harbor’
There still may be those “old-school” types out there. Preferring that higher education stick to the “three r’s” of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic. Kelsi Engelhardt blazed her own path embracing the “three c’s”—community, connection and caring.
She isn’t concerned about hard skills being underrepresented in the Engelhardt family. “My older sister has got all the talent for numbers, she’s a senior strategic information analyst.” Middle sister strikes a compromise between the two, launching a career in industrial psychology and human services. And no worries—success is assured. All three are UW-Green Bay graduates.
Kelsi Engelhardt’s accomplishments? Lengthy and audible. But an impressive resume doesn’t begin to tell her story. As Georjeanna Wilson-Doenges, professor and chair of Psychology puts it, “the accomplishment that really makes Kelsi stand out is her clear passion for serving as an advocate for victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse at Safe Harbor in Sheboygan.”
Her story began in her lifetime home of Sheboygan. Her reasons for attending college at the UW-Green Bay, Sheboygan Campus, familiar. “I wanted to stay close to home and save money while I figured out what I wanted to do for my career.”
She enjoyed the search, taking an array of courses. “I thought I might want to teach biology or become a nurse or even an actress.” She made the most of every opportunity Sheboygan’s campus had to offer her, from being a peer tutor to being a paid stage manager for University Theatre.
Then with an associate’s degree in hand and just two weeks into her first semester at Green Bay, “I took a huge leap of faith. Dropped my biology courses and took on two psychology classes instead.” She never looked back.
Her achievements since are impressive: reference editor for a professor’s manuscript; peer advisor for the psychology department; production assistant with the Psychology & Stuff Podcast; designing her own research study as an honors project; joining a research team whose findings were accepted into the Research in the Rotunda Conference at the Capitol in Madison and the 2022 Midwestern Psychological Association (MPA) conference in Chicago where she won a regional research award.
Engelhardt was also recently nominated for the UW-Green Bay Psychology Rock Star Award—the highest student award in a department of nearly 900 psychology majors.
To some, these accolades might represent a “ticket out of town” and on to bigger and brighter things. But for Engelhardt, her heart is inexorably attached to her hometown community—and Safe Harbor.
One reason was that Engelhardt’s grandmother, Mary Kalk, a longtime member and past president of Wisconsin NOW (National Organization of Women) in the 1980s was instrumental in the founding of Safe Harbor. “She’s still a massive inspiration to me,” Engelhardt adds.
But Kelsi Engelhardt’s connection to Safe Harbor was even more personal.
“I always wanted to work for them because I was victimized in the past. They were the advocates that worked with me and changed my life.”
The incident happened in high school. She simply calls it “a date gone wrong. An advocate from Safe Harbor came to the hospital, was very supportive and helped me through the healing process. It was a sexual assault. It took me a long time to wrap my mind around it.”
Fast forward seven years and an opportunity to give back.
“I got my foot in the door with an internship. My supervisor saw a lot of potential in me. I was offered a part-time job and now a full-time position.”
Even now she wonders if that past victimization also spurred her interest in psychology. “Psychology was something that I knew would allow me to work with people. I also wanted to understand the way people thought and navigated and experienced the world in the way they did.”
What also inspired her was the support she found throughout her journey.
“The people I’ve met at Green Bay and Sheboygan are what have made my college career what it was. I just want to give a massive shout-out to the people in my life who helped and supported me, because without them I wouldn’t have been able to do this.”