Earning a degree is a respected milestone but the educational value of life experience should never be understated. With a bachelor’s degree from Rivier College in 2000, Chloe Cataldo developed her skills during twenty years of employment before earning a Master’s in Educational Studies in 2020 through UNH Online.
The time span between degrees allowed Chloe to explore her personal talents, highlighting her powerful affinity to be an instrument of change. Her first taste in this direction arose when she accompanied an undergraduate admissions counselor to several high school recruitment events where she witnessed first-hand students from a broad range of backgrounds seeking opportunities for higher education. This early exposure was the determining influence for applying as an admissions counselor with Hesser College and, over the course of time, she developed a desire to “help students deal with their fears and carve a pathway to achieving their goals.”
As a career specialist with My Turn, a nonprofit organization serving Nashua North High School, Cataldo worked with the disadvantaged student population to improve their job readiness and college skills. She watched over, worried about, and nurtured young people through their high school years, providing them support for a productive future.
Standing out among many powerful stories is that of a struggling high school student to whom Chloe offered a blend of encouragement, practical advice, and honest feedback. By taking double credits in her junior year to make up for lost time, the girl graduated with her class and won an internship as a bilingual teller with a local bank. After multiple promotions, she became a loan officer supervising staff at the same bank. Twenty years later she and her mentor remain close friends.
Cataldo became a Career Advisor for Lutheran Social Services, specializing in helping low-income individuals obtain training for employment opportunities in the healthcare field. “In terms of the age group and social setting, I was working with the parents of the high school students from my previous job.” But, while the ability to impact a change in people’s lives was rewarding, the emotional burnout level prompted a need for change.
Returning to her former interest by accepting a job as Senior Support Program Assistant at UNH, Chloe’s role encompasses student admissions support, program development, campus-visit coordination, outreach, and networking. She feels her work has an important impact on students who are on the cusp of a new life adventure. “Each student comes with their own story and their own aspirations. I try to provide them with the best campus visit possible and put their feet on a good path.”
After the birth of her son, Cataldo was determined for him “to see that I could be a mom but also be a student” so she enrolled in the MEd program “to carve out space for myself”.
“I was never the best undergraduate student, not because I was incapable but because I did not feel engaged. As a working graduate student intimidated by my first experience learning in an online format, I was surprised to receive A grades. I saw this as a barometer of how much I had grown since my undergraduate experience and it boosted my self-confidence enormously.”
Earning a Master’s in Educational Studies was a transformative experience. An elective course with Dr. Hambacher on racial inequity gave her a different lens on life, prompting a re-evaluation of her past and of society at large within a new framework of understanding.
“My experience as a graduate student woke something deep inside me. My thought is that I will eventually dig into social justice education, either working with disadvantaged students or educator training.”
The pandemic has brought many social justice issues to front-page news and Chloe is inspired to bring into her university workplace thought-provoking conversations about uncomfortable topics such as racial bias. She believes that when people “lean into these moments” uneasy conversation topics become less difficult and more habitual, in turn prompting new patterns of thinking.
Bolstered by her extensive work with young people looking to create their future pathway, Chloe is determined to use her own transformative experience to foster improvement. “If each of us becomes a change maker, the ripple effect on a larger social scale is a powerful force to the positive.”
Her original graduation date canceled due to the pandemic, she plans to attend the “catch-up” ceremony in 2021. Life experience is a powerful educator but walking across the stage to receive a diploma is a transformative experience all its own.
Written by Gwendolyn Goguelet