Many ACErs appear on campus for their first week of ACE Summer fresh off of a college graduation or the completion of a fellowship or job. Few are coming straight from back to back NCAA lacrosse titles only a few days before. On Memorial Day weekend in Roanoke, Virginia, Gettysburg College defeated Middlebury College 11-9, with senior captain Katie Willis contributing two goals to her team’s victory. Three days later, she began her M.Ed classes at the University of Notre Dame.
Katie will transition from being a senior-year captain to captain of her fourth-grade classroom in Santa Ana, California, where she will be teaching at School of Our Lady in the Diocese of Orange County. Immediately after her team’s victory, Katie drove from Roanoke to Gettysburg to celebrate with teammates, say farewell, drive to her family’s home in Baltimore, and then drive to Indiana all in a matter of days. Katie admitted that it’s been a blur. “I went from the ultimate high of going out on top, being the best, to saying goodbye to teammates and close friends. I quickly had to pack, repack, and transition from this college student living the dream to being a professional role model and leader for these younger students as opposed to my peers.”
Katie, who studied psychology and Spanish at Gettysburg, was a three-year starter at low attack for the Bullets. Her time at Gettysburg was marked with great personal and team achievement. In her sophomore season, the Bullets captured the Centennial Conference championship. In her junior year, the team won the NCAA Division III Championship. During her senior season, Katie was named a team captain, and the Bullets won both their conference championship and repeated as national champions. Katie finished her career with the Bullets with more than 100 points. She and her fellow seniors are part of an elite group who left Gettysburg as the winningest class in program history.
Despite the rigors of college athletics, Katie always made time for the community. She participated in El Centro, an after-school program where she tutored local Hispanic elementary school students in the town of Gettysburg. Katie, who attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through 12th grade in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, was also involved with her faith at Gettysburg. She worked with with the Catholic Campus Ministry at Gettysburg as a lector and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and she was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Katie said that she had always considered teaching after graduation. While home on Thanksgiving break, she was discussing post-graduate options with her family. Her older brother Connor, who attended the University of Notre Dame, mentioned that he had many friends in the ACE program, including Maggie Schmid and Zack Sturm. “I went online, looked at the areas where ACE serves, the mission, and that really interested me,” Katie said. She then reached out her brother’s friends. The rest is history.
“It sounded so appealing. I always wanted the opportunity to give back to my Catholic community because it had literally raised me for 18 years of life,” Katie said. “And I knew that I wanted to go into something where I would be helping young kids. I felt this was a perfect way to blend my love of working with kids and giving back to the community.”
It was this idea of community that drew Katie into applying to ACE. “One of the things I loved throughout all of my education was the sense of community. I love the fact that ACE really fosters this idea of community. I love knowing that I have this strong, supportive group of people who I can come home to at the end of the day, meet up on retreats, and know that they are going through a similar experience and they are fair, willing, and ready for whatever I need from them. Whether it be questions about teaching to having someone listen and talk me through a tough day.”
Katie sees parallels between past sports teams and her ACE community, both in her immediate community in Santa Ana and in the 25th Cohort of ACE Teaching Fellows. “(It shows) even within the last few days, getting together with different people in ACE and getting to know each other,” she said. “At first we talk through classroom strategies and similar interests, and use that as a segue to learn more and form those close bonds. That to me is like the locker-room idea of having similarities and using time together to get to know people in a meaningful way.”
Katie believes that many of her lessons learned as team captain will serve her well in the classroom. She will move from being a role model for her peers to role modeling for her students.
“It was exhilarating and nerve-wracking to be named a captain in my senior year by my teammates. I was more than just a senior. It’s a step up. There are greater expectations and more responsibility from both teammates and coaches,” Katie said. “I just gained such a greater respect for my past captains, my coaches, and I got a better understanding of how invested the coaches are and how much work is put into planning every single detail. It was amazing to represent all of my teammates and the wider Gettysburg community in that way.”
After a few weeks on campus, Katie believes that choosing ACE is one of the best decisions she’s ever made. “One of the things I love about my cohort and ACE in general is that everyone is so open and inviting. I can walk up to anyone and have a conversation with them, and they can be so warm and inviting. That is something that doesn’t happen everywhere. It was a great way to be invited into a new community when you enter not knowing anything about the campus or the group.”
As Katie gets ready to teach, she feels prepared for the challenges of first year teaching by the adversity she faced on and off the field. Inspired by the mission of ACE, a commitment to her faith, and the support of her fellow teachers, she is excited for her next adventure with ACE.
“It’s about ACE in general and then you going out into the community where you are teaching and forming relationships with the students and their families,” Katie said. “It’s so incredibly important and beneficial for not only our personal growth, but the growth of your students and for the growth of the community that you are entering. That is something that spoke to me and that I wanted to be apart of.”
Interested in learning more about ACE Teaching Fellows? Visit ace.nd.edu/teach and request more information!