Ellen grew up in southeast Nebraska and graduated from Dana College with a degree in elementary and special education. She also attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, receiving a Masters in Education and Specialization in Educational Administration and Supervision.
Ellen began her teaching career in a Class 1 school district near Silver Creek, Nebraska. She continued her career as a special education teacher at Hebron/ESU 5 (gr 7-12), Palmyra District OR 1 (gr 7-12), and Nebraska City (gr 9-12.) Ellen was also a coach and sponsor at each of the high schools. In 1998, Ellen joined ESU 4 as the Director of Special Education.