Alumni Profile [Published in the OC Magazine, Summer 2018]
Interview by Corinne Greskiewicz, OC Parent, Development Committee Member and Alumni Conector.
Katie was 6 years old when she started attending Open Connections. Prior to that Katie attended kindergarten, but her mom felt that there must be something better. Katie spent her kindergarten year reviewing things she already knew but would come home too exhausted to engage in activities and new learning at home. Katie’s mom, Cindy, felt like there wasn’t anything positive coming out of her school experience. They ended up meeting a family through horseback riding lessons who homeschooled and attended OC (still in Bryn Mawr at that time). That OC family encouraged the Pizzikettis to join the OC community.
Throughout her time at OC, Katie was in Open Program, Venturers, Tutorial, Shaping Your Life, Teen Choice (she fondly remembers the very popular swing dancing offering), and various After-programs such as Theater. Katie began her OC experience at the Bryn Mawr location; she remembers when OC outgrew the Bryn Mawr site and was meeting in the basement of a church and then came to the new property in Newtown Square. She saw the Barn being built as well, which was another exciting moment for the community.
“I spent so much time at OC during my formative years that its difficult to recall specific things.” Back in her Open Program days, one highlight for her would have been the tire swing at the Bryn Mawr location. She also recalls finding a big pit of mud after it had rained and spending time rolling around in it (something that she would never consider as an adult but it was enormous fun for a 6 year old)! The Ventures program had an outdoor emphasis and Katie liked being able to get in touch with the wild natural environment. “This was the time in my life when I was most interested in nature.”
Katie remembers really enjoying Tutorial. She had Susan Shilcock (OC Co-Founder) as a tutorial Facilitator for one year and then Emily Bergson-Shilcock for two years. The Comprehensive Projects she recalls as some of her favorite work. “It felt personally meaningful and appropriately challenging to have the opportunity to stand in front of my peers and be an expert on something that I was excited about.” She also really enjoyed After-programs and specifically recalls Theater with Lucy Tyson as being incredible. Looking back, she realizes that she really appreciated all of the public speaking opportunities she had at OC.
After Katie graduated from OC, she went to Chicago because she wanted a change of scenery. She practiced living on her own and working a minimum wage job. It didn’t take long for her to realize that she wanted to attend college. She remembers turning in her applications and getting calls that she was missing high school transcripts. “At the time,” she said “it was so stressful.” But looking back, she laughed as she recalled creating her high school transcripts on her own. Katie attended DePaul University and graduated in 3 years with a degree in Psychology. It turned out to be very cold in Chicago in the winter; there was increasing talk of a Polar Vortex, and she missed her family. So, after graduating, she moved back to the Philadelphia area. She got a job as a mental health research coordinator at Temple University. Currently, she is working at the University of Pennsylvania in a regulatory position, which includes a lot of paperwork. Her work specifically focuses on dementia research. In 2016 she got her yoga certification and has been teaching classes and workshops at Maha Yoga Studio, The Rabbit Hole, and Fearless Athletics. “I do get paid but think of it as a hobby.”
Katie feels that one of the gifts that OC gave her was flexibility around expectations for herself and her role in the world. “Because OC challenged me to think critically about my educational goals and learning, it led me to be more willing to do things such as take a gap year and pursue alternative learning and activities, such as yoga, for my own fulfillment.”
Another thing that always comes to the forefront when she thinks of OC is Balanced Responses1. She feels that the emphasis on Balanced Responses* at OC helped her to develop interpersonal skills and has stayed with her throughout her life thus far. “I found the formula of Balanced Responses to be a starting point to develop deeper social skills.” She finds that she appreciates what others are doing and is more thoughtful about how she responds to others’ ideas. “This allows more space for others and for creativity in general, which is applicable throughout one’s life and can have real world impact.” Katie has found that she gets positive reactions from people when she approaches providing feedback in this way. She can see that it makes a difference and people find it refreshing.
Katie is impressed with how the OC community continues to grow and improve, from the infrastructure improvements such as the science lab to more opportunities for community-enhancing activities such as Community Days and the Teen Formal. “I remember that the hardest thing about attending OC was being the farthest geographically from OC’s campus and my friends. As a teenager at OC, I was always seeking more opportunities to use OC as a place to gather and hang out.” Although her wish to have her photo on the cover of the OC Magazine has yet to be fulfilled, her smiling face is gracing the pages of this magazine once again!
*A Balanced Response is an approach to giving feedback that honors ideas invites problem-solving of a collaborative nature. In response to an idea, behavior, product or service, you offer three positives and then phrase shortcomings as “how to.” For further information, see The OC Glossary of Terms, available in the OC Parent Resource Library.