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Katherine Waxstein with Pond Gap student Samari Tyler.
Katherine Waxstein with Pond Gap student Samari Tyler.

When Katherine Waxstein graduates this week, she’ll leave behind some work for others to do.

As part of a volunteer project, Waxstein developed a leadership program for elementary school students that’s been so successful it has been turned into a UT course that will be taught in the fall.

Waxstein has completed a double major in child and family studies and psychology and will participate in both the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences ceremony on Thursday and the College of Arts and Sciences ceremony on Friday.

She began volunteering at Knox County’s Pond Gap Elementary School during her junior year as a way to combine her love of mentoring children and her major.

Within a few months, Waxstein had created a character development curriculum to teach fifth graders about leadership and help them overcome behavioral issues in the classroom.

Starting next fall, Waxstein’s program will be known as COUN 404: Leadership in University-Assisted Schools, a 3-credit course offered through a partnership between the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences and the Center for Leadership and Service.

In the course, twelve students will learn how to teach the character development curriculum and then go into six area schools to implement it.

“It’s so unreal to see it come to life,” Waxstein said. “It’s something I never imagined would happen. It’s so exciting to know I made a difference.”

Following graduation, the Maryville native will spend the next two years working with elementary and middle school students in Memphis through Teach for America. She begins her commitment June 1.

“I can’t wait to get started and see what change I can create with Teach for America,” Waxstein said.

She challenges her peers to find something they’re passionate about or a cause they believe in and get behind it. They might be pleasantly surprised at the impact they can make, even at a young age.

“If nothing else, I wanted to be a consistent positive influence in the life of those kids,” Waxstein said of her time at Pond Gap. “I cared enough to give some of my time. At the end of the day, that’s all I had to do. I want students to know you can make a difference even if you don’t think you can.”


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,