posted April 23, 2021 - written by Molly Rutter, SOE Graduate Assistant
“My current job motivates me. I am not working in a classroom, but I am still working with youth. I find it my personal goal to call in my ask risk youth, hear their story, and try my best to get them re-engaged.”
Katie Hartung, Orchard Park native, enrolled at Erie Community College not knowing what she wanted to do or where she wanted to go professionally. All of her uncertainty changed one day when a professor from Buffalo State visited one of her math classes to talk about programs and options to transfer there.
“I enjoyed working with numbers and problem solving. While math was my strong suit, I couldn’t see myself working as an accountant or in the business field. I wanted to share my love of math with others and what better way to do that than to teach.”
Juggling the responsibility of full-time work, full-time school, commuting, and engaging in schools around WNY, Hartung gained valuable time management skills. The college experience helped her mature and become more independent and self-sufficient.
“One of my favorite things about attending Buffalo State is that I didn’t sit in a classroom for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. I could create my own schedule to fit my lifestyle. Plus, through my education courses, I was able to get out of the campus classroom to shadow and participate in the Pk-12 classrooms around Buffalo. This gave me a strong sense of what my future career would be like and to physically use what I was learning and see how it transitions into real life.”
Hartung says that the math courses she took were the most meaningful to her but she also found her special education courses interesting and informative. One professor in particular, Lynne Sommerstein, was memorable.
“Dr. Sommerstein made me want to come to class. She was so motivating, energetic, and she truly cared. It was a course about disabilities, and she shared her own experiences with her daughter. She truly made you learn and feel what it’s like to have a student with disabilities. She taught us to see the student before the disability - that is something I will never forget.”
Hartung also had a personal connection to the field of special education.
“Having a parent with a disability helped me learn more about special education and ways I can help others to cope with those limitations, which is something I wish I was taught at a young age.”
In addition to her education classes, the diversity courses she took prepared Hartung for her current job as an Employment Counselor and Account Clerk at Erie County Department of Social Services where she works with at risk youth in Buffalo to get them engaged in school or job skill training. Her current caseload is at-risk recently-turned 18-year-olds who are no longer in high school. Her goal is to re-engage them into GED programs, get them involved in job readiness trainings, and/or provide them with supportive services. She also handles department billing for contracted sites around Buffalo, as well as employers from the city involved in the PIVOT program.
“I saw myself going into the teaching world after college. Although that didn’t pan out, the concentration and organization I learned at Buffalo State really opened multiple doors and opportunities for me. My current job motivates me. I am not in a classroom, but I am still working with youth. I find it my personal goal to call in the youth, hear their stories, and try my best to get them re-engaged."
An ongoing challenge for Hartung is coping with language barriers among the diverse youth she works with.
“A lot of my youth are refugees who do not have an extensive background in English. Thankfully the county does have interpreters and we do have access to a language line, but there is still work that needs to be done to provide the services they need."
While at Buffalo State, Hartung participated in the International Professional Development Schools (IPDS) Dominican Republic program offered through the School of Education. Through IPDS, teacher candidates travel abroad to observe and volunteer in classrooms for up to 3 weeks between semesters.
Working with teachers and children abroad had a profound impact on Hartung.
“The experience I gained in the Dominican Republic for those few short weeks is something I couldn’t be taught or learn from reading a book. It was a real-life immersion with language, education, and communication barriers. I hope my time and efforts positively affected the children and families that we spent time with as much as it did for me.”
Her future goal is either to become the Director of Employment for Erie County or to continue working and “climbing the ladder” in the county. Hartung encourages novice teachers to be patient and keep trying when it comes to looking for a job.
“Don’t give up. We have all been there; sometimes you need to just take a step back, breathe, and regroup. Don’t stress out if there are no teaching jobs around you when you graduate college, with your degree there are endless opportunities. When one door closes, another one will open. I am proof of that.”
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