Developing the language and literacy skills of preschoolers through mentorship: The Jumpstart Program

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Katie Blackburn is currently a Site Manager with Jumpstart Pittsburgh, a national non-profit that focuses on developing the language and literacy skills of preschoolers through mentorship.  Katie graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2013 with a Bachelor’s in Psychology as well as Minor in Statistics and a Certificate in Russian & East European Studies. As an undergraduate, Katie had participated in the Jumpstart Pittsburgh program. Beyond Jumpstart, she’s currently involved in the Coro NEXT Leaders program in Wilkinsburg, which is a group of people who live, work, or is otherwise invested in the area that meets to improve individual leadership skills and collaborate on meaningful change. Katie plans to return to graduate school in the spring to pursue a Masters in International Development, focusing on Nongovernmental Organizations at the Graduate School of International and Public Affairs (GSPIA) at the University of Pittsburgh.

Katie Blackburn: Developing the language and literacy skills of preschoolers through mentorship: The Jumpstart Program

How did you choose your major in college? How did you choose the college[s] you chose? Did you have a mentor or person who helped guide you through that process?
I chose my major because it was something my father and I constantly discussed as I was growing up. He found the psychology behind people’s actions interesting and instilled that same curiosity in myself. Because my parents did not go to college nor did anyone we know at the time, no one guided me through the process. I did my research and figured it out on my own. At the time I was looking into schools I naively thought that every college was the same, and it was by happenstance I visited Pitt’s campus and absolutely fell in love with its people. I was en route to Allegheny College and passed though for the weekend, staying with friends of friends. Even though I was staying with people I had never met previously they were so inviting, and that was the theme of the weekend. All of the strangers I met were kind, willing to talk, and genuine; I loved the small-town feel in the city. After that visit I knew I wanted to go to Pitt. 

Did you always want to work in nonprofit/NGO work?
I did not. I thought that with my Psychology degree I would head into the research sector, but after seven months in research post-graduation, I realized that the process to implement change would take years. In research you have years of proposing grants, the grant and actual data collection period takes years, and then there are several years of compiling data into papers for submission. It isn’t until after this process can meaningful change begin from the research. I missed the direct-service model and working towards change in the present moment. Once I realized how happy I had been in the classroom and a part of the national non-profit, I realized I wanted to continue in the non-profit sector.

Where did you attend college, what did you major in? How did you gain experiences to prepare you for the work you currently do now?
I attended college at the University of Pittsburgh and participated in many things that have lent themselves to the position I currently am in. For example, I participated in research (coding data, analyzing data, reporting out) that I have brought to my current role. We have to evaluate our program and its components which, due to my research experience, I feel adequately prepared for. Beyond research I participated in many volunteer opportunities and held two part-time jobs. These experiences helped to prepare me to manage my time as well as empathize with students who are currently in the same position. Lastly my study abroad experience truly helped to open my mind to the diversity in the human race and appreciate humanity. I spent a summer in Russia and interacted with people who had a different set of cultural norms. It was difficult to navigate while trying to learn, trying to not offend, trying to grow. This experience helps me today to navigate people who are different from myself and still keep my mind open to learn new things, appreciating new perspectives and people. 

Katie Blackburn: Developing the language and literacy skills of preschoolers through mentorship: The Jumpstart Program

What is the interview process like for this organization? Any tips for interns or people seeking a job with the organization?
The application process, since Jumpstart Pittsburgh is housed within the University of Pittsburgh, is through the University. It begins with an online application and ends with an in-person presentation. Some advice for Jumpstart alumni would be to contact their previous Jumpstart supervisors for a personal recommendation, rather than just listing them as a reference. The personal touch definitely adds something more to an application. 

Katie Blackburn: Developing the language and literacy skills of preschoolers through mentorship: The Jumpstart Program

What do you currently do to achieve work/life balance? Any advice for students, graduates, and entry-level professionals that you could provide?
Honestly, this is something that I am still working on. It is a constant go-go-go during working hours and I have made it a priority to stop and take a break at some point in the day, perhaps for lunch or perhaps for a walk around the building. This time helps clear my head and give me time to accomplish non-work tasks. I definitely recommend building this time into your schedules too. Sometimes it can feel that there are not enough hours in the day, but sticking to a schedule, ending at your designated time, and setting realistic to-do lists can be a huge help. Once 5:00pm hits, or whenever you are supposed to be finished, make sure to finish what you are doing and leave. Recognize that there will be things left unfinished and this is okay. Even though you may have 20 things on your to-do list, separating out what can be realistically accomplished in one day and only focusing on those tasks can help you to feel less overwhelmed and considerably more productive when you are able to clear that to-do list at the end of the day and start fresh the next day. 

What are the benefits/perks of your job?
Although I know this is not what this question is asking, the main benefit is the fact that my role outreaches to over 100 undergraduate students and 300 children, not to mention the indirect impact on other community members. 
As for the perks of being a University employee, I have the opportunity to attend many personal and professional growth conferences/lectures, ride the PAT system freely, great coverage for healthcare/etc, and an educational credit that allows me to take discounted classes at the University.

Katie Blackburn: Developing the language and literacy skills of preschoolers through mentorship: The Jumpstart Program

Stasia Lopez is the Global Education Editor for Wandering Educators and is also a Career Consultant at the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Stasia is passionate about international education, travel,  and loves working on a college campus. She’s lived in four different U.S. states (Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania) and also studied and lived abroad in Rome, Italy. Stasia lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, Fernando.

All photos courtesy and copyright Katie Blackburn

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