By Melissa Starker
When Krista Peterson graduated from CCAD in 2009 with a degree in Advertising & Graphic Design, she intended to follow a traditional career track of creating design and branding for businesses. But circumstances took the western Pennsylvania native in an unexpected — and incredibly rewarding — new direction.
A Career Path Makes a Turn
After earning her BFA, Peterson found herself in the same situation that many grads from many schools faced in the months after the economic meltdown.
“No one had work,” she recalls.
She made do for a time, taking the jobs she could find in Columbus. Until a friend who was preparing to enter the Peace Corps told her about AmeriCorps, the program’s domestic counterpart, and the scholarships and other benefits it offers to those who sign on for two years of full-time community service.
The opportunity appealed to her, not just because it offered steady employment. “I volunteered as an undergrad, and I had done it in high school to get into college, but I found I really missed it,” she says.
Peterson turned to former CCAD classmates for input on the personal essays required to enter the program. “My friends from school helped me get in,” she says.
Upon exploring the AmeriCorps positions available, she applied to programs in several major cities and held out hope for a spot with Amate House, a nationally recognized young adult volunteer agency run by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. A position opened up at the last minute, and she was in the Windy City a week later.
“My family thought I was crazy,” she says. “No one had heard of this. I had no context for what I was doing.”
Peterson did know that the idea of teaching appealed to her, and through Amate House she would be able to get in front of a classroom without experience or a teaching certificate. She was placed at St. Agnes of Bohemia, a K–8 school in Chicago Heights with a large Hispanic population, and assigned to teach computer skills to all grades and art history to third graders.
“They had two Apple computer labs, but no teachers for either lab. They had been gifted all this equipment, but couldn’t afford a teacher,” she says. “I was the first teacher to have experience with Macs prior to working there.”
Her year at the school was a learning experience all around. With some help from the other teachers, Peterson took on the new-to-her tasks of preparing a curriculum in line with other areas of study for the students and writing every lesson plan for a full schedule of classes.
Since many of the students came from Spanish-speaking homes, Peterson expected to face a language barrier — but not the kind she ended up actually experiencing.
“It wasn’t that kids couldn’t understand English,” she says. “They didn’t understand the technical language. If your parents don’t speak English, they’re not going to teach this at home. You’ll just sit on a computer and click on things. I had to teach them that these are computer parts, and this is how a search engine works. Nobody had any idea how a computer works. They didn’t know how to do a Google search.”
She soon found that this challenge produced an unexpected benefit outside the classroom. “It’s kind of funny to think you’re empowering a kindergartner, but these kids would go home and teach their parents — so I was teaching a whole community.”
For her second year of volunteering, Peterson found a job that maintained the ties she’d formed with the community while utilizing her advertising and graphic design skills: creating websites and handling other marketing tasks for an afterschool boxing program. Her new role allowed her to support a safe environment for kids, as well as a healthy form of conflict resolution.
Following her AmeriCorps service, Peterson received a full scholarship from the organization to Chicago’s DePaul University. She began graduate studies there in the fall of 2012 in the field of human computer interaction. Given her first-hand experience of the potential of this field to positively affect lives, Peterson knows that she wants to make public service part of her career after graduation. Her goal is to merge her graduate studies with the training she received at CCAD to help bridge the digital divide for needy communities.
Her volunteer work has continued in her time at DePaul, supplementing the research her course of study requires.
“My project now is a website for immigrants in Chicago, people who are looking for citizenship or health care resources,” Peterson says. “I’m working with a group of lawyers at DePaul and with the president of a local high school, so we can work with her students to make this application something they can use with parents who are language limited or not familiar with computers.”
“If it works out, it’ll be the only one in Chicago,” she says.
The New Path
Ultimately, Peterson wants to build a career designing interactive educational tools. She credits her first students at St. Agnes with giving her an essential schooling in the ways people learn.
“I want to do this because of all those learning tools I got from the kids,” she explains. “They helped me understand.”
“(Computer literacy) is becoming more crucial. It’s about equality — equal access to resources and equal awareness,” she says. “There’s a special need for that in Chicago and other big cities.”
Her teaching experience has also given her a renewed appreciation for the time she spent in the classrooms and studios of CCAD.
“It really stuns me how valuable it was,” she says.
“The process of doing art is not linear, but going to school helped me see it more linearly. Because I spent four whole years trying to figure out that process — how to make things more efficient and less emotional — what I found was that anytime I had a problem or needed to teach something, I would begin with what I had and end with where I wanted students to be with the lesson,” she says. “The stuff in the middle, you have to wait for. You have to make it happen, but you can’t plan every step. That’s exactly how you do art.”
Published in print twice a year, CCAD’s IMAGE magazine shares stories about our creative community, whether here in Columbus or around the world—what we’re doing, thinking, and planning next. The IMAGE blog brings those stories online for transmission at the click of a mouse.