Fall 2014

About the Magazine

Northwestern is the quarterly alumni magazine for Northwestern University.
Contact or contribute to the magazine.

Alumni Life
Photo by Michael Goss

Called to Lead

Story Tools

Share this story

Facebook  Facebook
Twitter  Twitter
Email  Email

Print this story

Tell us what you think. E-mail comments or questions to the editors at letters@northwestern.edu.

Ever wonder about those strange designations we use throughout Northwestern to identify alumni of the various schools of the University? See the complete list.

Find Us on Social Media

Facebook  Twitter  Twitter

Incoming NAA president Kathryn Mlsna has been giving back to the university ever since she served on her 10th reunion committee.

Kathryn Kimura Mlsna was on a fast track for success when she landed a job in McDonald’s in-house legal department straight out of Northwestern’s School of Law in 1977.

But before she could begin her legal career, Mlsna ’74, ’77 JD, ’03 P, ’12 P had to spend a week working in a McDonald’s restaurant in the Chicago suburb of Darien, flipping burgers, mopping floors and taking orders, so that she and other new corporate employees could gain a better understanding of fast food’s front lines.

Mlsna saw it all that week, from a construction worker carrying a 2-by-4 with his co-workers’ lunch orders scrawled on it, to a drive-thru customer who refused to accept the soft-serve cones Mlsna made because the ice cream didn’t have that signature swirl.

“I’ve never worked so hard in my life,” Mlsna says. “You have to know what you’re doing, do it very quickly and efficiently, and with a smile. I consider it one of the top five experiences in my career.”

Mlsna’s career took her from McDonald’s corporate offices in suburban Chicago — where she worked for 30 years, rising to managing counsel in the company’s global legal department — to the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, where she served as chief strategy, legal and governance officer from 2010 until this summer. On Sept. 18, Mlsna will begin a two-year term as president of the Northwestern Alumni Association, taking over for outgoing president Dan Jones ’60, ’91 P.

Despite Mlsna’s long career as a lawyer, she wound up in the profession almost by chance. She was planning on becoming a high school teacher after earning her sociology degree at Northwestern when a senior-year roommate decided to take the LSAT. Mlsna took the test too and enrolled at Northwestern law school immediately after earning her bachelor’s degree.

“Who knows what I would be if I had roomed with someone else that year,” says Mlsna, who grew up in Morton Grove, Ill., just a few miles west of Evanston. “As it turns out, the practice of law involves education, so being open to different pathways enabled me to make an impact by teaching after all.”

Mlsna’s decision to go to law school not only put her on a new career path; it also led to her meeting her husband, Timothy Mlsna ’74 JD. They have three adult children: Lauren Mlsna Kao ’03, ’09 MA; Matthew Mlsna
’12 JD; and Michael.

A few years after law school, Mlsna was focused on her young family and her promising career when she got a call from Northwestern asking if she would serve on her undergraduate class’ 10th reunion committee. Mlsna said yes, sparking decades of involvement with the University.

“I gained so much from my experience at Northwestern,” says Mlsna, who was elected to Northwestern’s Board of Trustees in 2012 and has been a longtime member of the NAA’s Board of Directors and Northwestern’s Law School Fund Board. “I loved Northwestern then, and I’m excited about where it’s going. Northwestern is constantly evolving. Serving as NAA president is a way for me to give back for all the wonderful things that have happened to me here. I always try to say yes to opportunities to engage with the University.”

That comes as no surprise to Mlsna’s freshman-year roommate, Edith Howard Bostic ’74. Mlsna and Bostic have remained close friends since living together in Bobb Residence Hall, and they’ve co-chaired several of their class’ reunion committees over the years.

“She is so giving of her talents and her time,” says Bostic, an alumni regent. “Northwestern has a treasure in Kathryn, and it is the University’s good fortune to have her in this leadership role she’s about to assume.”

Laura Wayland, the NAA’s executive director, says Mlsna’s thoughtful concern for others and natural leadership ability will serve her well as NAA president.

“Kathryn embodies the best of Northwestern, and I’m looking forward to her leadership as she leads our alumni association toward providing meaningful engagement opportunities to alumni around the globe,” Wayland says.

Mlsna says she will focus on supporting Northwestern’s strategic plan and increasing engagement among alumni. Her own story shows that even just one opportunity to give back to the University can lead to years of involvement. “That one call led to a lifetime of rich experiences,” she says.