“We talk about the millennials, and we talk about these categories or groups of people, but I think the common thread is that no matter what generation you’re a part of, we’ve got to build relationships,” says Dr. Katie Kinney, Athens State University Alumna and Interim Dean for the College of Education & Human Sciences at the University of North Alabama. Before she became a teacher, Katie learned what a vital role relationship building can play in academic success – especially for students like her that desperately needed hope and a second chance.
Growing up in Athens, Alabama, Katie came from a single-parent home. It was important for her to make the most out of her opportunity to go to college, but she found herself in an academic predicament. Her attempt at a traditional college experience away from home had failed, resulting in a low GPA and a lack of financial resources to try to go off to school again. “In my situation, I couldn’t give up,” says Katie, “I had to regroup, mature, and dig myself out of a hole. I ended up at Athens to pursue my goal of becoming a teacher, and that is where I found my second chance and my hope.”
Despite her academic challenges, Katie was able to develop relationships with her professors at Athens State. They could see her potential and poured their time and attention into her, helping to make her dream a reality. “Not only did I get the knowledge and the skills and acquire the dispositions that I needed in order to be a successful teacher, but it’s the relationships that were so important. The relationships that I made kept me connected to my craft and furthered myself as an educator – they are so critical to student success.”
One special bond she made during her time at Athens State was with former College of Education faculty member Dr. Betty Dean Newman. Dr. Newman was there for Katie during every stage of her college and professional career. She served as either a professor that Katie studied under or as a friend she could go to for advice. Now lifelong friends, Dr. Newman nominated Katie as the 2017 Oustanding Alumna from the College of Education, an award she attained. “It’s just been neat to see how at all those different stages she’s been there for me,” says Katie. “For her to take the time to do that, to honor me, was just very overwhelming. I admire her so much.”
Katie graduated from Athens State in December 1997 and immediately began her graduate education at the University of Alabama. She received her Master’s degree in Elementary Education in 2000 and PhD in Instructional Technology in 2004. Katie uses her story to motivate students that are grappling with the decision of quitting school. “We as part of universities, our culture is geared around student success. The thing I try to relay to the students I work with is, ‘Don’t give up.’ Going to school was a struggle. I had to work full-time and go to school full-time while doing it, but I would not trade that experience.
I grew up and I learned so much about myself and what I had in me. People like Betty Dean Newman saw my potential and were able to give me what I needed. Coupled with their expertise, I fulfilled my goal.”
Since Katie knows firsthand how impactful professors can be in helping students achieve their goals, her advice to today’s students is to build meaningful relationships, ask questions, and not stop until their goal is met. “Just reach out,” Katie says. “Ask questions and try to find those people that are going to help you. They’re there. Those people are there.”
Katie also advises against setting unrealistic expectations, because education is only a small part of the bigger picture. “I hear a lot of students say, ‘I’ve got to finish this in three years’ or ‘I’ve got to finish this in two years.’ You’ve got the rest of your life to be a grown up. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself, because this is bigger than a degree or a piece of paper. This is about developing the skills, knowledge, and dispositions to be a good citizen in your community.”
Katie lives in the Shoals with her husband, Jeremie, and two children, Mary Cole and Griff. She loves learning and is keeping her options open for the future – perhaps even pursuing another Bachelor’s degree. “I’ve done this life’s work and I’ve loved every second of it, but life’s too short not to keep learning.”