Becoming an Award-Winning Writer Later in Life

Lois Kennis (MdS '11) first began her U of M college career back in the 1970s as an elementary education major. She wanted to major in English and creative writing, she recalls, but at the time, it didn’t seem practical.

“I thought, you can't just set out and write and make a living out of it, can you? I was young, I mean, naive is the right word. So I didn't pursue the writing.”

Fast forward to 2011, when at age 60, Lois completed her Multidisciplinary Studies bachelor’s degree. “I began a novel at about the time I graduated,” she says, “which took four years to write and another six to edit, attend workshops, and learn everything I could about the field of writing.”

In 2023, that book was published, and later that same year, it won the NYC Big Book Award for Christian Fiction.

A Trip Around the Campuses

Maroon and gold flags with contrasting "M" symbol flap in the wind among the tops of pine trees

Lois' path to graduating from the College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS) began in 1969 at Concordia College, where she studied French and English. She took a break to work at a public school, then enrolled as an Elementary Education major at the University of Minnesota. She took another break—lasting almost 30 years—to work and raise a family. In the early 2000s, she enrolled at a community college where she earned an associate's degree in design. She then took online courses in graphic design from the University of Minnesota Duluth, hoping to someday apply her coursework to a bachelor's degree.

In the meantime, she got a job at the University of Minnesota Extension in Rochester, supporting a team of five educators from around the state. She loved her job, so she put her degree on hold again.

She remembered that an advisor from CCAPS had told her that she may be able to complete her degree online, and a few years later that became a reality through the Multidisciplinary Studies (MdS) program at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.

Customizing Her Degree

Lois was able to apply her community college and UMD coursework to her MdS bachelor's degree. “And I did some research to refresh myself,” she adds. The Multidisciplinary Studies program, she continues, is flexible enough that you can take one class at a time, with some even offered online. 

Lois focused on technical and creative writing courses, which perfectly complemented the work she was doing at UMR Extension and as a volunteer in her community.

One of the first things Lois did in the MdS program is write an EA, an educational autobiography. Since the degree is tailored to meet individual goals, students spend an entire semester working with their advisor and planning their degree. Lois says that her EA helped her solidify that what she really wanted to do was write fiction.

“It was just fantastic … working with the professors and other students really helped stimulate my imagination and sparked in me the belief that it is doable to write novels.”

Finding and Spreading Hope

Lois Kennis holds a copy of her book Rise on Eagles' Wings

Getting her first novel written and published was a long process. She entered numerous contests and won several. She joined different author organizations, networked, and found support through other writers and agents.

Finding a supportive community plays a crucial role in Lois's fiction, too. Years ago, she met a newly divorced teen mom who was about 16 years old. “She loved her children and worked hard to take care of them. I wanted her to be the protagonist of my novel.”

The young girl in the book finds a group of people who help her, and she ends up paying it forward later in life. Lois herself has been buoyed by the generosity of others. When she was leaving a long-term abusive relationship, she stayed in a series of shelters in Iowa and Minnesota with her youngest child. The experience left a lasting impression on her.

“That theme of finding and passing hope along is strong in the book,” Lois says. “I wanted to write a book that would let people know that a positive community can really help individuals, just like the University of Minnesota. The Multidisciplinary Studies program is a community that helped me with my education and the book.”

Ten years after completing her first novel, Rise on Eagle's Wings was published by Elk Lake Publishing in 2023.

Giving Back

Today, Lois lives in Iowa and holds journaling workshops at local libraries, where she talks about her road to becoming an author. “It gives other people hope that they, too, could write if they wanted to. I feel like the workshop is giving back and encouraging other writers.”

Photo of OLLISIG memoir

She also took training courses with Wings of Refuge, an organization that helps survivors of sex trafficking, so that she could conduct writing and journaling workshops for them. 

“I just want to do something with all the education and experience I've had, something that makes the world a better place,” she says. “I feel like it's a mission for me.”

Education, Lois believes, is a good example of helping people to find what it is they want to do in life and commit to a course of studies that will help them reach their goals.

“I feel like I'm a better person from having done the program,” she says. “So if there's anybody who is thinking about doing this program, I strongly suggest it—if you have old coursework or haven't had any coursework—it's just a real life-building program.”

Advice for Returning Students

Don't be afraid. Don't think that you're in with a bunch of recently graduated high school students and that they will think you're strange. Your wisdom will be appreciated. Be hopeful. Be patient. Ask a lot of questions. Professors are anxious for you to succeed. Other students are anxious for you to succeed. 


Lois Kennis is the winner of the 2022 Page Turner Award, Christian Genre; 2020 Virginia Crown Award, American Christian Fiction Writers; and the 2020 Cascade Writing Contest, Oregon Christian Writers.


Mia Boos is a writer and content strategist with the College of Continuing and Professional Studies, covering the College’s graduate programs and undergraduate individualized degree programs. She joined the CCAPS Marketing team in 2014 and has worked for Thomson Reuters and New York University. Connect with her via LinkedIn