Katherine Felts was born in Virginia but she isn’t from there. Felts has spent much of her life in a perpetual state of transit. “My mom is a federal employee and she had the ability to pick and choose where she wanted to go,” said Felts.
Felts’ mother worked as an administrative assistant at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany and at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. At various points the pair also resided in Maryland, Arizona and California.
Felts has mixed feelings about her experience as a global citizen. “I don’t have the ability to say, ‘oh that’s my home,’” she said. “I can’t really point and say ‘yeah, that’s where I’m from.’ Every place I’ve been has impacted me and has shaped who I am, so it seems unfair to just pick one spot.”
Felts came to Washington state a year ago from Belgium. While overseas she met someone. He’s in the Army. Their first encounter didn’t go well but they ran into each again and this time they connected. “We just started joking and we had a vibe,” said Felts.
The two started dating and eventually got married. In the summer of 2016 he received transfer orders to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Moving, the kind Felts is used to, involves more than boxes and tape. Every few years she packs up her belongings and says goodbye to her old life as she begins a new one. “I think I’m in a really weird space where I’m over moving all of the time,” she said. “I would really like to establish what my adult life is going to look like.”
She may not be rooted to place but that doesn’t mean Felts is lost. “Having that freedom to reinvent myself over and over again, I think, has made me pretty clear on who I am and who I want to be,” she said. When asked to describe herself Felts said, “I want to be the kind of person that is concerned about other people.”
Felts had previously attended community college while living in California but says she put her education on hold when she moved to Europe. Upon returning stateside she enrolled at UW Tacoma and chose to major in ethnic, gender and labor studies. “When I really checked in with myself I realized that people are what motivates me,” she said. “I want to not only be aware of what’s happening with them, I also want to be able to do something about it and gender studies seemed like a step in that direction.”
A first-generation student, Felts admits to feeling unsure of herself. “As a first-gen student and a student of color it can feel really isolating in these places,” she said. Much of Felts’ concern had to do with expectations. “I’m slowly starting to realize that it’s not just about ‘oh, you have a piece a paper and then you can get a job because of that,’” she said. “It’s all of the relationships, it’s the networking, it’s the mentorships, it’s what you get involved in, it’s about finding out who you are and what you want to do.”
In terms of a career path, Felts has decided she wants to pursue something within the field of career development. She made this connection, oddly enough, in the career development office at UW Tacoma. Felts got a chance to meet former staff member Andrea Wynne, the career development specialist. The two had a lot in common including the fact that both are military spouses. Felts applied to be a campus career prep consultant in part because of Wynne. “The fact that my supervisor was going to potentially be this amazing veteran woman who went through all the same things I’ve gone through was really inspiring,” said Felts.
Things didn’t go quite as planned. Felts got the job but Wynne’s husband received transfer orders to Japan and they left in the summer of 2017. Still, Felts relishes the chance to get experience in her chosen field. “It’s a great opportunity,” she said. “I do fifteen-minute drop-in appointments and help students with their resumes and conduct mock interviews.”
Besides school and work, Felts is also the vice president of UW Tacoma’s Student Veteran Association. Issues related to veterans and active duty military are important to Felts. “My mom is a veteran and so is pretty much everyone in my family,” she said. “Being on the other side of things has really shown me that more needs to be done and that I can play a part in effecting change.”
Felts’ husband will serve another four years in the military and that means at least one more move. The stability she’s looking for might not be in the cards just yet but Felts is feeling good about the future. “I want to be a Renaissance woman and I’m getting a little bit closer to that goal.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org