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Kathy Westcott

Associate Professor of Psychology

Kathy Westcott

It was sort of there from the beginning. When performing as part of the corps de ballet in high school and college, she could step back and see where improvements could be made. In college, she was more interested in seeing how a pre-school class as a whole could work more efficiently than working with individual students. In fact, she ended up doing her doctoral dissertation on that very topic.

When she thinks about it, Kathy Westcott muses that she's always been able to see the bigger picture. Even in seemingly everyday tasks, she sees everything in macro. Take the recent home renovation that she and husband Mark McKellop, associate professor of psychology, completed. Kathy was in charge of overseeing contractors, designers and conceiving the flow of the new rooms. "I could see how it was all going to come together in the end," she says.

The ability to step back and see an organization or group in perspective will definitely be an asset to Kathy in her new job as assistant provost, a three-year gig that starts this fall. Perhaps her primary duty will be taking the lead on Juniata's accreditation through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which will be focused mostly on assessment. "My background as a school psychologist is in 'systems level change,'" she explains. "Which means we will look where we are as an institution and look systematically at our practices and outcomes."

She's pretty sure this is one job she won't be able to see how it all comes together in the end until, well, the end, but she's certainly looking forward to the process. In fact, the process is what fascinates her in the first place. So, in the highly detailed, painstaking, obsessively documented world of accreditation and assessment, Juniata might have found the perfect person for the job.

"I don't know what I'm going to learn. That has yet to be determined," she says. "Probably that I might hate working in administration."

Nah, that would never happen. Kathy's work has focused on how to make groups work better. She loves being part of the crowd, but she also likes slipping away from the pack to check how things are working. That's sort of the soul on administrative work. Let's let her describe the irony of her new assignment. "I like to be an under-the-radar person and this job doesn't let me to do that."

Growing up in Norwalk, Ohio, a small town near Sandusky (Bonus: this location meant she got to work summers at Cedar Point Amusement Park), Kathy saw her small high school as a sort of laboratory that gave her room to try many different things without the pressure to pick an ultimate destination. As a young girl and through high school she was very interested in ballet and actually chose to attend the University of Cincinnati because of the university's dance conservatory. But repeated injuries and the intensity of the conservatory's competitive culture led her to transfer her freshman year.

Transferring as a first-generation college student from a conservatory to Ohio State University was sort of like going from a family dinner celebration to Times Square on New Year's Eve. Kathy describes her first few quarters as "basically stumbling along blindly, I didn't even have an advisor." She decided to focus on psychology and learned of a research assistant job. "It was a grant to study the effect of a parent's death on the (surviving) children," she says.

She did 25 to 30 interviews, often seeing another undergraduate interviewer, Mark McKellop, in the area. She loved the job and eventually found a paid position in the lab, doing decidedly less interesting work (she clipped obituaries from Ohio papers that seemed "promising" for interview subjects for the same researchers). Later at OSU, she worked with pre-schoolers with disabilities at the Nisonger Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. "I got these high-impact experiences by being in the right place. It was all very serendipitous."

Serendipity or not, Kathy was able to channel her undergraduate experiences into a job as a case manager for the Central Clinic in Cincinnati. At the time, McKellop was in graduate school at the University of Cincinnati. She worked with low-income families. "I learned so much about myself and how to put myself in other people's shoes," she recalls. "I learned a lot about the health care system working with parents to help their kids be successful at school."

As it turned out, those experiences also helped her be successful at school, as she decided to pursue her master's and doctoral degrees at Cincinnati. Around the time Kathy finished her doctorate in 2001, Kathy and Mark both stepped back and saw the big picture. It turned out he didn't like clinical psychology and decided to switch to teaching.

Kathy saw that being a school psychologist was rewarding in its own right. "It was such a nice match for me," she says. "Making the connections with students and parents and teaching others how to address problems was right in line with my interests."

In 2002, Mark landed a job at Juniata and Kathy stepped in as a sabbatical replacement for an education professor. The next year, she and her husband shared one "professorship," each working about half-time teaching and performing other duties.

Eventually Kathy and Mark, who by this time had welcomed son Ethan, now 8, and daughter Carly, now 6, into the family, both became full-time professors. In addition to faculty duties, Kathy became interested in "the how" of teaching at Juniata. She worked on several teaching assessment projects funded by the Teagle Foundation with a variety of faculty, including Lynn Cockett, David Drews, Michael Boyle and Phil Dunwoody. As might befit a person who loves to see how systems work, she became a leader in the College's Scholarship of Teaching and Learning efforts and recently rotated off as director of Juniata's Center for Teaching Excellence--a sort of in-house think tank about teaching at a liberal arts college.

So, the Middle States Assessment needs a person who is interested in how to improve teaching yet also quantify how well the College performs in the classroom. Plus the job requires the person to see how the College functions as a whole and discover how to improve.

Hmmm, doesn't that describe Kathryn Westcott?

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