Through Big Changes, Unchanged

By Andrew Jenner, '04 | June 1st, 2018

(Photo by Steven Stauffer)

On a spring weekend, Mary Ellen Kennel ’84, her parents-in-law and her daughters, ages 4 and 8, huddled together to work on a jigsaw puzzle of a farm scene – more reminiscent of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where she grew up in a conservative and TVfree home, than New York City, where she works in digital forensics for a large bank.

It’s been, as Kennel wrote on her personal blog, “quite a journey,” and yet, she continued: “I haven’t changed much, really.”

As an incident response specialist and digital forensic analyst, Kennel is a digital-age detective, called in when someone causes mischief to a computer network. There are clues to track down, patterns to look for, and pieces to assemble into a coherent whole. Kennel has always loved puzzles.

She came to the field by way of the television industry. A two-week temp-job filling in for a receptionist at The Joan Rivers Show ended up lasting five years, followed by six more working on Ricki Lake. During those years, she had time to explore computers, fast becoming an important tool in the home and workplace.

After taking courses at the SANS Institute and in a Columbia University certificate program, Kennel jumped full-time into digital forensics. Through it all, from talk shows to tech, one constant has been the values that she grew up with.

“Being raised Mennonite, one of the core philosophies I was taught was a life of service,” Kennel wrote.

While many classmates and friends took that idea abroad with them as missionaries, Kennel began putting it to work in New York’s soup kitchens and homeless shelters soon after she arrived. “I’ve always felt that the city was my mission,” she continued. “I didn’t need to travel very far to find my calling.”