Katie Bruckmann

"Once you start learning about different problems in this world it’s like you see them everywhere and you see how prevalent they are. I think most people, once they hear about them, would want to help right?"

When talking with Katie, it was immediately obvious how passionate she is about certain subjects, whether that be working with refugee students, teaching English as a second language, or starting her own nonprofit. But what really strikes me about Katie is her ability to advocate for herself. I'll let her tell you her story and share the wealth of advice she has for you:

Katie on how she decided her career path:

“Everyone in my family is a teacher and it was always on my list of careers that I might do but it was never at the top. I love kids but I was like, ‘Nah, no, not me. I’m not going to be a teacher, that sounds boring. You do the same thing everyday.’ That's not true. I changed my major like four times honestly in undergrad. I changed it so many times. I first wanted to be a journalist, which I still am interested in. I love to write. So that was my freshman year at Arizona, and then I went home for the summer to Massachusetts and I volunteered at a camp for kids with special needs and I loved it. So I was like maybe I want to teach Special Ed. I decided to be a Special Ed major, but things didn't really work out with logistics and whatever, so I pulled out of that major. I started to do family studies at U of A which is basically a general broad topic that you can sort of do a lot of things with that's just working with people. My sophomore year I did that major and then I ended up going home and transferring at the end of my sophomore year. I knew I wanted to be a teacher but I didn't know what grade or what exactly I wanted to teach. I didn't want to be stuck in a major wherever I ended up that I would just change because I wanted to graduate in time. So I found Emmanuel, which is the school I graduated from in Boston. They have a really great sociology program and you can concentrate in different areas, one of which is social justice, which is something that I'm really passionate about. So I thought, ‘That's really fun. That sounds great. Let's do that,’ so I did. And I realized…I mean I knew that there were issues in this world, but I am very privileged in a lot of ways so I had never experienced them, and I probably won’t, I definitely won’t, experience a lot of them. So learning about them I was like, ‘I want to know more,’ and once you start learning about different problems in this world it’s like you see them everywhere and you see how prevalent they are. I think most people, once they hear about them, would want to help right? So I used that not just in my general life, but in education as well because you see these inequalities in education a lot. So when I was graduating from undergrad, people were kind of giving me crap about it, saying like, ‘Uhh, what are you going to do with that major?’ and I was like, ‘Well, let me tell you. I'm going to work with kids. I'm going to be teacher in some way and it'll apply, and then I'll get a master's degree in education, whatever that looks like, in a few years,’ and they were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah okay whatever.’ So when I moved to Vermont I was living right outside of Burlington, but I was working right in Burlington, and the school that I worked at has a 60% poverty rate. So 60% of the students are on free or reduced lunch, there’s a huge amount of refugees, a ton of different languages spoken, it's incredible. The students are amazing there, but they have nothing. So all of a sudden I was seeing these things that I've read about in books and heard about in my classes. I was seeing it in real life and I was really amazed by it and sort of heartbroken in a lot of ways. And the resilience of all of those students, but especially the refugees, really touched me. I've always been fascinated with other cultures and other languages, obviously I like to talk, so I wanted to learn more about these people and not necessarily…I wanted to help them but I also wanted to learn about them and learn from them. So that's what I continue to want to do. I was working as an aid at the high school and I think it was after a year of working there I got wind of this program at St. Michael's College in Vermont, which is another small school, that they were doing this program that's between 4 and 8 weeks, I can't remember exactly, it's been a few years, where you can get a certificate in TESOL, in teaching English, and I was like, ‘That sounds kind of cool,’ because it's a way of seeing if you like that sort of content without committing straightaway to the master's degree. So I did that, and you can earn some credits that way, so I did that, loved it, started taking one class at a time, and then two classes at a time, and then I finally applied to the Master’s, got in, did that and worked for a year, then quit my job and just did my Master’s. So I finished my Master's in a year and a half and then a few months after I graduated I came here.”

I love Katie leading us through this journey she went on to find out what she wanted to do and what she was interested in. One of my favorite quotes, by Marie Forleo, is “Clarity comes from action, not thought.” As a very cerebral person myself, I try to think through everything and make sure I have all the answers before I start. But that’s not how it works. I think today there’s so much pressure on kids who are going into college to figure out right away exactly what they want to do, especially since school costs so much, and you can get into a load of debt very quickly. Even though Katie went right to school, she let her experiences lead the way. She worked at a summer camp and found she really loved working with kiddos with disabilities. So she started to pursue that. When that didn’t work out, she went with something similar that interested her. And finally she said “I’m probably going to go to grad school,” but she waited, let her experiences guide her, and in that respect, ended up in a program that she really enjoyed and got a lot out of, which informs the work she does now. And now, from those experiences, she’s working on opening a non-profit teaching English language learners! How cool! She couldn’t have known all of that when she entered college. She had to let life lead her in the direction she was meant to go, and she had to experience things to make those decisions. If there is one thing I often take solace in while making decisions, it is that if I start moving in a direction, I know life will give me experiences that will continue to lead me in the right direction, whether I started that way or not. But I know that I can’t just sit on my butt and wait for those decisions to come, I have to take action.

Katie on expectations:

“A huge part [of my success] was my parents, because they always believed in me and pushed me and never let me sort of just settle for the minimum of what was required of me. I remember even being little, like 4 or 5, and them saying, ‘When you grow up you're going to graduate, and you're going to go to college, and you're going to get a job and live on your own,” and I didn't know what that meant at 4 but I was just like, ‘Okay, that sounds fun!’ Then probably around high school age I started meeting other people with disabilities who are my age and realized that not everyone had the same kind of parents that I have, who are so awesome. And not that their parents are bad people, but they haven't pushed them to move out, or go to school, or get a job. They haven't pushed them to reach their full potential, and I think that's doing them a disservice honestly.”

I think expectation is vital. How do you know what someone’s potential is until you try to push beyond the limitations of their potential? I recently read this quote by T.S. Eliot, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one will go.” Despite this section talking about parents’ expectations, I think it’s important to remember our own expectations of ourselves. We can’t control other people, but we can control ourselves. Creating big goals and big dreams can be a bit scary at times, when you fear that you could fail. But what’s the alternative? Create small goals that we always reach that aren’t big enough to really lead us anywhere? I choose big goals. What do you choose?

Katie on advocacy:

“I've had professors not necessarily give me the accommodations that I was supposed to be given, and so it was really important for me to be like, ‘Hey, let's talk after class,’ and you know, ‘This is what I need and this is why,’ and generally if they know why you need it, even though they shouldn't have to because that's none of their business honestly, that can help... Even when people just say things to me on the street I either ignore them or if I feel like responding sometimes I will, but I don't generally let it get to me. But to be able to say, ‘Hey, that's not alright that you said that to me,’ or, ‘Actually that's not true what you just said. That's a false thing that you've heard,’ is really important because maybe the person that said that to you is genuinely uninformed, or maybe they are just a jerk, but most of the time I have found that most people are just misinformed and they just don’t really know." 

I love Katie’s examples of how she advocates for herself. I think it takes courage to be able to go into these kinds of conversations with people. It’s easy to just go to administration straight away to get your accommodations, and it’s easy to just ignore people on the street and keep going along your way. What takes courage is to have an honest and open discussion with people about your life, and she does.

Katie on failure:

“Just last year, when I lost my job after relocating from out of state, approximately six months after I got this job that I thought I was a shoe-in for, they let me go. And I was freaking out because I have rent to pay, I have bills to pay, and I moved my entire life to be here. Are you kidding me? You’re going to let me go after just hiring me? Thankfully my boss was awesome and she wasn't the one to let me go. She felt terrible and so angry that it happened, and she reassured me that it wasn't my fault. It was other stuff that was going on and I was not the only one that this was happening to. So that was really difficult because all of a sudden I was left with nothing, no joke, so I had to work my butt off like sometimes working four jobs at once to make ends meet. Thankfully my parents are helping a little bit, which is great even now, but I'm still trying to find full-time employment and it's been almost a year. So that sort of feels like a failure in a way, but I'm trying to handle it with grace and dignity and [trying to] succeed so I can stay here and I can achieve what I want to achieve.”

I love this section. You know why? Because Katie is in the middle of a failure right now. She’s down and out, and she says, “I’m trying to handle it with grace and dignity and [trying to] succeed so I can stay here and I can achieve what I want to achieve.” How cool is that? She knows her situation isn’t great. She knows that this sucks. But she doesn’t say it sucks. She says she’s trying to handle it with grace and dignity. And she’s laser focused on her goals. She knows she needs to stay here in order to get her dreams off the ground. So she’s making it work, working multiple jobs, asking for help, and just doing whatever she can to get her nonprofit off the ground. I applaud you Katie.

Katie on community:

​"[I’m friends with] a lot of my friends in the disability community because we were friends online first, and that's been really helpful and really great to have, so to have that is huge. Honestly now Facebook is where people meet. Having people that you can count on, rely on, and relate to is really important... I mean in a lot of ways even if you don't have the same disability, a lot of times you can relate to people who are disabled because you've experienced similar things. You've experienced similar types of ableism, gotten the same kinds of comments from people that are ignorant, or if you have a problem that you're not sure how to solve maybe someone else has already gone through that and figured out how to fix it. Also, if you're looking for an apartment or a place to live and you know people that live in the area you want to move to, you can say, ‘Hey, do you know of any housing that might work for me that I can afford in your area?’ Or if you work in the same industry as your friends who are disabled, that's always a good connection. Just being able to talk about certain things that, no matter how great your able-bodied friends and family might be, they'll never understand because they can’t. And it's not because they're a bad person, but they literally just don't understand because they never had to and they won't have to probably. So that's good to really see it through a different set of lenses almost, because it's like, ‘Hey, you're going through that too, so am I,’ or, ‘I've done that too,’ and, ‘I've had that happen to me and this is how I handled it.’ So it gives people hope because it makes you feel like you're not alone in a lot of ways, which is really important, because sometimes you can feel isolated if you don't have that support system or people who are disabled in your life, whether it be online or in person."

I love Katie’s comments on the importance of being a part of the disability community here. Unlike, say, racial minorities, it is very rare that you are born into the disability community. More often, people with disabilities are born into able-bodied families. Because of this, it takes more effort to be in the community. You aren’t simply born into the community. However, Katie points out why being a part of the community is so important. It’s important because you can relate to others’ experiences, learn from others’ experiences, and feel supported.

Katie on discrimination in the workplace:

"Even though it's illegal to discriminate in the workplace based on disability, I know it still happens. And I can tell when I go in for an interview, because I don't usually disclose before I go in, because it's not relevant and I don't want them to judge me before even meeting me, so I don't usually disclose. I know the look of, “Oh!” and then they try to hide it and smile. I saw you, and it's okay because it's a surprise, but I guarantee you that the reason why I haven't gotten certain jobs even though they will never tell you this, is because of my disability."

I really like how Katie touches on discrimination in the workplace, especially in terms of interviewing. This certainly isn’t the first time I’ve heard someone bring this up. But I think it brings up more questions than answers. I mean, what is it exactly that makes people reject you when they know you have a disability? And how do you handle these situations the best? Do you just come out and talk about it? Do you keep the subject just on the work at hand? Has anyone done anything that they have viewed as “successful” to handle these situations?

How do you handle disclosing or not disclosing your disability during a job interview? Have you found any strategy that's helpful for you to get the job? Reply in the comments section with your answer.