Student Stories

Keischa I.

“Do you fall victim to your environment? First step is to say no to the negative things your friends are doing, next step is what’s the alternative? I used CATC as a vehicle to stay away from self-destructive choices.”

— Keischa I., CATC student 2005-2006, now working toward her Ph.D.

In 10th grade, Keischa didn’t look like a girl who would be working toward her doctorate degree less than a decade down the road: distracted by a boyfriend, skipping classes,  staying out late  and not doing homework. A ‘D’ in chemistry woke her up. “I said ‘that’s not me,'” she recalls.

So Keischa worked to boost her GPA. During her senior year she went from 19th to eighth in her class in nine months, something the school counselor said she had never seen accomplished. Keischa was at CATC that year,  which she says helped her deal with the pressures of her neighborhood– absent fathers, heavy drug trafficking, and various peer pressures.  “CATC was an excuse to say ‘I have to be somewhere.’ Whatever your problems, at CATC you can leave them at the door.”

Looking back, Keischa realizes that what she learned at CATC also launched her on a path to multiple degrees, work in Uganda, Ghana, Germany, and eight states in the U.S.–not to mention an ever-deepening appreciation for Cincinnati and all it offers.

“I wasn’t taking my future as critically as I should have,” she recalls. “CATC provided a bridge from high school to adulthood. At school, teachers might accept your excuses, why you’re late or don’t have your homework. At CATC  there are no excuses, because that’s how it works in college and the real world.” In addition, she recalls, CATC guided students in taking the steps to get into college.  Deadlines were written on white boards, Ms. Laura and college counselors followed up, asking if everyone had signed up for the SAT, and “they stayed on top of me about deadlines and reminders.”

As Keischa has earned her degrees, she has made it a point to practice a lesson learned at CATC :
” Sometimes in life you have to go beyond the requirements, as part of the way to set yourself apart, show creativity. I always try to do that.”  Her bachelor’s degree is in African-American studies, her master’s in city and regional planning, from the University of  Cincinnati and Ohio State, respectively.  In 2010, she worked in a program similar to CATC but in Uganda, where she plans to return someday to do a comparative study.

Keischa currently works as a foreclosure-prevention counselor at the Home Ownership Center of Greater Cincinnati, and teaches a twice-monthly class in foreclosure prevention. She’s also made it a point to reach out to various education and planning leaders in Cincinnati, suggesting coffee or lunch and expressing a desire to learn about what they do. “CATC had a big influence in thinking creatively about taking initiative for your life,” she says. “And no one has said ‘no.'”

Next, back to UC for her doctorate in sociology. She is interested in neighborhood revitalization and concerned about the effects of gentrification. “Poverty is being  suburbanized, it’s no longer central,” she says, and therefore harder to address. “But I also see great prospects for growth and development in such a charismatic city,” she says.  “I’m so grateful for programs like CATC and will never forget where I came from.  Now it’s time to pay it forward.”