Nancy Ellen Kiernan PhD

Obituary of Nancy Ellen M. Kiernan PhD

OUTDOORSWOMAN. Nancy Ellen M Kiernan PhD explored the joy of far-flung hiking treks throughout the decade following retirement with her husband of 59 years, Michael Kiernan PhD: in Andorra in the Pyrenees; on Offa's Dyke Path and Pembrokeshire Coast Path in Wales; along the west coast of Ireland, and the West Highland Way in Scotland. A pub stop concluded each day of these arduous jaunts: in effect, a longitudinal study of regional Real Ales. They also thrilled to disparate hiking in California with her daughter, Michaela Kiernan PhD, and son-in-law, Ashley Gray. Nancy Ellen accomplished her most challenging hiking at age 78, hoofing an average 11 miles a day for 9 days straight in Scotland. She credits her hiking prowess to the challenge of hiking in rocky Central PA in winter snow and summer humidity over fifteen years with knowledgeable hiking leaders (GT, PS, TL, JR), as well as her talented PT (TW).

Nancy Ellen and her husband birded afar in recent years, covering the extent of Chile from the Anacama desert near Peru to Punta Arenas at the tip of South America. Nancy Ellen and her husband also birded nature preserves throughout Costa Rica, recording many life birds in their 900-mile van trip. Nancy Ellen also pursued her birding in Ecuador, Panama, and Mexico where she witnessed the migration of hundreds of thousands of raptors. Later she birded Lapland, Finland, and northern Arctic Norway above the Arctic Circle.

Nancy Ellen credits her avid interest in birding to the shared interest of her husband, daughter, and son-in-law; to volunteering for years in PA Winter Raptor Surveys, Audubon Bluebird and Nuthatch surveys, Whippoorwill surveys, contributing to the Second PA Breeding Bird Atlas (2004-09), participating in Shaver's Creek Birding Cups; developing teaching materials for a spring bird nesting walk at Millbrook Marsh and co-leading walks at the Penn State Arboretum; and, to the devoted scholarly pursuit of birding by many friends in the State College Bird Club.

Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet, captured Nancy Ellen's spirit, in his "Good-bye to Birds": "I wandered the world in search of life: / bird by bird I've come to know the earth: . . . / I received those wings in my soul / And immobility never held me down".

FAMILIA AND COMMUNITY. Nancy Ellen avidly supported her husband's research on Sir Francis Bacon at rare book libraries throughout the US and UK. She contributed meticulous analyses to the typesetting of a seventeenth-century edition of Bacon essays and, using internal evidence, narrowed the dating of a seventeenth century manuscript. Nancy Ellen and her husband loved Shakespeare at the Globe and other plays at the National Theater on the South Bank, and chamber music at Wigmore Hall during these research trips to London over the years, as well as baroque and medieval music, opera, folk music, and songs written by their son-in-law.

Nancy Ellen and her daughter, Michaela, had a special bond. They shared outdoor adventures, the arts, and the love of ideas over a lifetime. Having finished their doctorates in the same year (Nancy Ellen in rural sociology; Michaela in social psychology), they celebrated by hiking in the high altitude of Southern Yosemite. When Michaela was a child, they created beautiful medieval and Renaissance brass rubbings at churches outside Oxford and Cambridge. Both loved textiles and happily turned bolts of cloth at Britex in San Francisco, and earlier, at Liberty in London. They shared their love of ideas in their scholarly work. For 13 years, Nancy Ellen taught an interactive lecture in her daughter's research methods courses at Stanford University School of Medicine. They also contributed to the methodological ramifications of each other's work and published several journal articles together.

Nancy Ellen's activism and enthusiastic volunteer work spanned numerous community needs. She worked with the League of Women Voters to evaluate the operation of the new District Magistrate court locally, then wrote a booklet, How to Sue in Small Claims Court, supported by a publication grant from Keystone Legal Services for distribution by the League to low-income families and the general public. She shared with her son-in-law a passion for expanding voting rights. Nancy Ellen participated in Meals on Wheels for 8 years as a driver and served as a Board Member. She was Program Director for Junior Museum, a 100-member family group in Centre County, designing fun, educational and recreational pursuits for children and parents to share.

RESEARCHER AND EDUCATOR. Before retirement, Nancy Ellen spent her professional life in the groves of academe. As a program evaluator in the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, she collaborated with scores of faculty and extension educators across all fields to evaluate the impact of their educational programs in agricultural and urban communities throughout PA. She collaborated with administrators to assess the barriers for women on the faculty, establish a protocol and train teams to examine civil rights efforts in programs and extension committees throughout all 67 PA counties. For her leadership, she received the Achieving Woman Award from Penn State's Commission for Women.

Recognized as a national expert on how to moderate focus groups across diverse audiences, Nancy Ellen brought this expertise to professional evaluators across many states and Canada, teaching annual workshops at the American Evaluation Association meetings and at the Canadian Evaluation Society in Quebec, the Qualitative Methods Conference in Alberta, Canada, and AAPOR conferences in San Francisco and Boston. She also taught these skills at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health for several years.

Nancy Ellen was the author or co-author of 60 peer-reviewed journal articles and The Rise of Women and Sustainable Agriculture (University of Iowa Press, 2016), the latter drawing on ten years of research, written with other women scholars in the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.

Her work was recognized with awards throughout her career including the "Sustained Excellence in Evaluation" from the American Evaluation Association. With her colleagues in agricultural engineering at Penn State, she also received the Research Leading to Prevention Programs award for research from the National Institute of Farm Safety. Several other awards were from the National Association of Family and Consumer Sciences such as the Program Excellence through Research awards.

Nancy Ellen's first career was also in education: she taught in public schools in four states. She began in Spanish Harlem in NYC, then in Wisconsin, Illinois, and in Brookline, MA. She earned her PhD in Rural Sociology from Penn State, her MA in Sociology from Marquette, and her BA in Sociology from Marymount Manhattan College in NYC where she was elected Student Body President in her senior year, for which she received the Butler award for leadership.

Throughout her life Nancy Ellen made a great effort to balance all the wild and wonderful things that make up life. She was a woman of deep faith who sparked joy in the lives of others. And a little puckish mischief here and there for good measure.

Nancy Ellen died peacefully at home of an aggressive cancer. Her family is deeply grateful to the Grane Hospice Altoona staff for their impeccable professional care and kindness during her final days as well as to Central PA Limo for their expert driving and thoughtfulness during trips to Hershey Medical Center.

Arrangements under the care of the Koch Funeral Home, State College. Services will be private in CA. Those wishing to honor the memory of Nancy Ellen are encouraged to donate to Centre Volunteers in Medicine or NPR.

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Nancy Ellen