Walla Walla, Wash. – Walla Walla Community College (WWCC) student Catherine “Cat” Katelnikoff has been selected by the college’s Board of Trustees as WWCC’s nomination for the statewide Transforming Lives Award.
Created in 2012, the Association of College Trustees (ACT) Transforming Lives Award program recognizes current and former students whose lives have been changed by pursuing higher education at a community or technical college. Each college board of trustees names one recipient, whose story and picture is included in a booklet shared with state legislators and the broader higher education community.
Katelnikoff was 15 years old when her father passed away from suicide. Suddenly homeless, her boyfriend’s family gave her a home, and she and her boyfriend ultimately married and had two children. Her life was once again thrown into pain and turmoil when her husband passed away at the age of 25 from suicide. She moved back to Alaska with her children where she had support.
When Katelnikoff was 28, she started a relationship with a man and they had two children together. They moved to Washington but the relationship was abusive and traumatic. The State of Washington helped Katelnikoff and her children relocate to Clarkston for their safety.
“I was just a shell of who I once was—I had no confidence,” Katelnikoff said. “My brain was washed into thinking that I would fail.”
Katelnikoff connected with the local YWCA, and they provided her with guidance and resources—including a connection with WWCC as a means of getting the credential and skills she would need to support her family.
“I was a 32-year-old stay-at-home mom when I found Walla Walla Community College, and it transformed my life,” Katelnikoff said. “I soon found that I was surrounded by people that believed in me and were there to help make sure I had all the tools I needed to succeed.”
She recalls that college was a scary jump, though kind and welcoming people like Ginny Foote, Linda Lane and Emma Brice encouraged her and were instrumental in her path to a Medical Billing and Coding degree.
“They really believed in me,” Katelnikoff said. “My confidence grew and I began to see what I was capable of.”
Katelnikoff is now enrolled in a bachelor’s degree and continues to maintain a spot on the President’s List. She is serving in her second year in the college’s Student Government Association (SGA), first as Vice President of Business and now the Vice President of Activities. WWCC faculty member Tracy Sereda helped her discover a passion for marketing, and Katelnikoff envisions a stable and successful career that combines all of these newfound skills, experiences and interests. She has a healthy support system, and she aims to purchase a house for her family.
“My lack of work experience before college is no longer a worry because WWCC has offered ways for me to obtain experience while working on my degree,” Katelnikoff said. “I will forever be grateful to WWCC for showing me my abilities and giving me hope. I now have a past I am proud of and a future to look forward to.”
The ACT Awards Committee will select six keynote speakers from the nominations submitted by Washington community and technical colleges. All nominees are invited to attend the Transforming Lives Awards Dinner on January 23, 2022, in Olympia. Each of the six keynote speakers receive a $500 cash award from ACT, and other nominees will receive a $200 cash award.
Those who are interested in learning more about WWCC are encouraged to visit wwcc.edu. Winter Quarter classes begin January 3.