Friday, February 22, 2019

Kerry Kowalcyzk eases post-graduation stress

Kerry Kowalcyzk
By Matt Pascarella

It’s not easy navigating the post high school process. Whether you plan to go to college, enter the workforce, or go in another direction, there can be a lot to do and be hard to figure out. That’s where Kerry Kowalcyzk comes in. She’s a college and career specialist at Windham High School.

Kowalcyzk is a member of JMG/MELMAC, a collaborative foundation with a mission to offer a continuation of support for students after high school. The goal is to help students identify aspirations for life and then connect those aspirations to a post-secondary plan.’ Kowalcyzk works with freshman through seniors as well as the graduates. “I do anything post-graduation planning or post-graduation helping,” she explained. “I’m not the college lady, I’m the ‘what are you going to do after graduation’ lady.”

A biology major and graduate from the University of Maine at Farmington, Kowalcyzk worked as an admissions counselor for eight years. She decided instead of trying to get students into one school, she wanted to spread her wings and do a little bit more with everyone. Kowalcyzk wanted to help students looking at a career path, not just the college focus. She doesn’t like the question ‘what is your major?’  she feels ‘what career path do you want to go?’ is a more accurate, appropriate question.“I want the students to all have a plan. I want them to be excited for graduation, not because they’re leaving high school, but for whatever their next step is. I get excited when a student comes in junior year and says, ‘I don’t know what I want to do’ and then comes to me right before graduation and says ‘this is what my plan is,’” stated Kowalcyzk.

While 70% of students that Kowalcyzk works with go on to some form of higher education, a large portion investigate taking a year off, participating in the workforce or staying in their current job. One of her goals is to make connections that might lead to something they’re interested in.

JMG/MELMAC grant allows Kowalcyzk to arrange activities like field trips to colleges or businesses, running the college fair and handling some of the colleges who come in and speak to students. Her budget through MELMAC Education Foundation is to help with post-secondary planning. Kowalcyzk also provides outreach services to all students from the last two graduating classes by calling them three times a year to see how they’re doing. “Windham wants to make sure that when students walk out, they have a direction,” she said.

A Gorham resident, Kowalcyzk loves science. She’s a big fan of the outdoors and describes her favorite activity as being outside, drinking coffee and reading a book. She has lived in many places from Iceland to Florida as her dad was in the Navy. Kowalcyzk has experience doing many things; she was a restaurant manager, a white-water rafting guide and a soccer coach. She describes herself as a helper and wants a student’s day to be better because they met with her.

“I want students to come in here and know that when they leave, they’re not going to be stressed. I usually give them long to-do lists, but we have a plan. I think most students who walk out of here go ‘this is my next step’ and that’s always my goal.”

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