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Alumna Curtis working with Columbus City Schools children to break down barriers

Alumna Curtis working with Columbus City Schools children to break down barriers

This article is from the Spring 2016 edition of Otterbein Towers magazine, out now. Read more articles from the latest edition online.


According to Kiersten Curtis ’14, service has always been in her heart.

“I know that serving others helps prevent and mitigate negative life outcomes; it helps people become successful and resilient.”

Curtis has proven herself to be a hero through her selfless work to improve the lives of others.

She currently works at I Know I Can in Columbus, OH, where she breaks down barriers and perceptions that keep children in Columbus City Schools from pursuing dreams of higher education. She was placed with I Know I Can by AmeriCorps, a national service program.

Part of her job is to challenge students to think about post-secondary options and bridge the knowledge gap that many families face when taking on the task of applying to college. Curtis said her work is especially important for first-generation students.

“We set examples and demonstrate which behaviors and habits will bring about success for them now, so that when they reach high school they are amply prepared for their next journey.”

Curtis is an ideal ambassador for I Know I Can; she received a grant from the organization as a first-generation student herself.

“It made a huge difference in my ability to attend college. I truly believe this is what it means to be an Otterbein alumna — to see your professional life and personal goals come full circle.”

At Otterbein, Curtis majored in international studies and took a study abroad trip to Jordan.

“I researched Jordanian law and how it affects undocumented Syrian and Iraqi refugees accessing health care and education. Not many undocumented persons want to stand out as undocumented, but I was able to complete some of the research and learn a lot about how families live without legal papers,” she said.

She also volunteered a day of service at a United Nations refugee camp.

Outside the classroom, Curtis was active in many campus activities. She held offices in the Heritage of Latino Americans (HOLA) and International Student Association (ISA), and was a member of the African-American Student Union (AASU), among other activities.

But it was her involvement in one program that may have prepared her best for her current position with I Know I Can. “Ubuntu was a mentoring program for Columbus City School high school students, which allowed me to share my testimony for college and inspire other youth to think about college, especially Otterbein.”

Curtis appreciated I Know I Can for believing in her college success, but that organization wasn’t alone. At Otterbein, she found a group of alumnae who also believed in her — the Westerville Otterbein Women’s Club. Through the club’s endowed scholarship, this group of women became heroes to Curtis.

“Those were women who found it worthy to invest in my goals,” she said. “That means a lot to me because I wouldn’t have had this experience without them.”

Their generosity further encouraged Curtis to pay it forward. She now participates in the African-American Alumni Network and young alumni programs and plans to eventually invest in the futures of other students.

“It’s a full circle at Otterbein,” she said.