Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Kathrine Kraft
Name: Kathrine Kraft
Occupation: Stay-at-home Mom
Education (UR and additional): BS (Optics), University of Rochester, 2003; MA (Secondary Education), University of New Mexico, 2010
Current city/state of residence: Albuquerque, NM
Community activities: Preschool Co-op, Volunteer activities through Bosque School (former employer), UR alumni interviewer
When and how did you choose your major?
I always loved physical sciences, and I was pretty sure I wanted to major in physics. When I was in 10th grade, I participated in the PREP summer program through the UR Physics department. I learned about so many different related fields I had never even considered. We did an open house in the Optics department, and I fell in love! To focus one’s study solely on *light* was just the coolest thing I’d ever heard. I was amazed, and never wavered in my decision to be an optics major!
What resources did you use on campus that you recommend current students use?
The POA Library! (Boy, I hope it’s still there…) I found that collaboration was a very important part of my studies at UR, so to have a place full of people studying in the same field was great. We spent more hours in the POA than I’d ever care to count…it was like a home away from home. Also, I can’t say enough about taking advantage of any and all office hours. Even if you’re not studying for an exam or struggling with a problem set, office hours are an opportunity to talk with your professors and form valuable relationships (just go ask about their research if you don’t have anything else on your mind)!
What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?
Immediately after graduation, I made the best decision of my life: to study in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar. I almost didn’t apply, but Betsy Benedict encouraged me to go for it, and I’m so glad I did. I was able to take Optics courses in German at the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany (home of Ernst Abbe and Otto Schott, among others). I even took a class on Nonlinear Optics that used Professor Boyd’s book! Not only did I get to see how another university taught my major, but I was able to become nearly fluent in German, and I learned a lot about culture, community, and myself. I was often pushed out of my comfort zone, and I learned just how independent I could be.
What do you do now and why did you choose this career?
My career path has taken a few twists and turns in the ten years since I’ve graduated! When I got back to the states, I started working at Intel as a Defect Metrology Engineer using darkfield microscopy. The technology behind the job was really cool, but the day-to-day activities wore pretty thin. Jim Zavislan warned me that I might not like working for a large corporation…listen to your mentors! After three years, I left Intel to return to grad school for a degree in Secondary Education. I became a high school physics teacher, and, most recently, was working at a small independent school teaching Conceptual Physics to 9th-graders. I LOVE being a teacher! I’m currently taking a break from teaching to focus on being a stay-at-home mom, which I think is the most important job I can have. I know that I will go back to teaching once my own kids are in school, and I’m happy to have such a flexible career that allows for this kind of time off. I’m sure that if someone had told me what the future held when I was back in college, I wouldn’t have believed it. I was a very driven student and knew I had a bright future ahead of me. Priorities change, and I’m glad I’ve never been afraid to acknowledge that. Even though I’m not directly working in Optics anymore, I still use what I learned as an optics major all the time…maybe I’m not solving differential equations, but my daughter certainly knows more about rainbows than any other toddler we know.
What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?
The most important thing I learned in college was the value of hard work. I remember Professor Brown told us to treat math just like we would music. You don’t expect to play a perfect concerto the first time you look at the sheet music, so we shouldn’t expect to solve a problem right off the bat, either. That really stuck with me. So many people feel like you either “get it,” or you don’t. I no longer believe that’s true. This kind of reminds me of the Einstein quote, “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stick with problems longer.” I also learned from Professor Berger to always be ready for questions! He actually taught me a lot about being a good teacher. He was *tough*! But his constant quizzes and questioning made it so that we were always studying, and not just for tests. I think, beyond those specific examples, I also learned from all of my professors and TAs how to talk to and work with adults and authority figures. I have definitely developed some really good communication skills that have helped me be an asset to teams I’ve worked on. It may sound arrogant, but I think I’m a really great employee, and I know that’s because of a lot of the things I learned as an undergrad.
Where would you like to be in five years?
In five years, my youngest child should be in school, so I hope to be going back to the classroom, too. I love teaching, and I miss it when I’m not working. Personally, I hope to be traveling more as a family and exploring the world at large. Five years is too soon, but sometime after that, I’d also like to start thinking about pursuing a PhD in Curriculum Development.