Three years ago, 26-year-old Katt Ritchie entered Carroll Community College.
She came in majoring in social science, and was active in her classes, even calling herself a “nerdy Hermione Granger.” She said she was vibrant and participated a lot in her classes.
But outside of class, Ritchie said the only people she talked to were those at the cafe where she got coffee.
“I wouldn't talk to my classmates. I was painfully shy,” she said.
Three years later, that has changed drastically. Ritchie is now heavily involved on campus, something that has led her to be nationally recognized for her volunteerism.
Ritchie was named a 2018 Newman Civic Fellow, which according to its website, “recognizes and supports community-committed students who have demonstrated an investment in finding solutions for challenges facing communities throughout the country.”
She is one of 268 students representing Campus Compact member colleges and universities, according to a news release from Carroll Community College. Campus Compact is “a national organization that advances the public purpose of over 1,000 colleges and universities by deepening their ability to improve community life and to educate students for civic and social responsibility,” according to the release.
Through the fellowship, Ritchie will have access to both virtual and in-person learning opportunities during the 2018-2019 academic year for the duration of the one-year fellowship term, according to the release. She also has the opportunity to attend the 2018 Newman Civic Fellows National Conference in Boston this November, according to the release.
Ritchie’s involvement on campus, and giving back to others, stemmed from a work study at Human Services Program of Carroll County in the family center, where she ended up with Heather Diehl, the coordinator of experiential learning and student organizations, as an adviser. Diehl encouraged Ritchie to attend a cold weather shelter event, where she helped with a dinner, something Ritchie said was wonderful.
From that event, she met the co-presidents of the Service Learning Club, and the rest was history.
“I was shocked to learn there was a club for people who want to do service,” she said.
At the end of that year, the club needed a president. And Ritchie took a chance and stepped up. Most recently, she was the secretary of the club.
From there, her involvement flourished. She went out for the Student Government Organization and now holds the vice president position, and went on a leadership retreat last fall. Her time at Carroll has helped her to learn there are people on campus just like her who want to serve the community.
“I think being involved on campus was such a big deal for me because it helped me kind of come out of my shell,” Ritchie said.
Diehl said while it may have taken some time for Ritchie to find her role in being active on campus, Diehl saw Ritchie’s “leadership potential” right away.
Diehl said her goal with Ritchie was to help her get involved and to have her see her leadership ability. There are a lot of people at Carroll who like to volunteer, but not everyone has that drive or ability to lead others to do the same, she said.
“Katt not only does all these service learning hours herself but she encourages everybody," Diehl said.
It’s been fun watching Ritchie see her own potential, and helping others find theirs, Diehl said.
“It’s almost like a ripple effect,” she added.
Ritchie will graduate from Carroll next year with her associate’s degree. After Carroll, Ritchie’s plan is to head to University of Maryland Baltimore County to major in social work and minor in sociology, and then head to the University of Baltimore for her master’s degree in social work with a focus on behavioral health. She wants to do art therapy, and likes the idea of working with students like herself, but thinks she wants to start in a psychiatric ward helping kids.
For her, giving back to those who struggle and have dealt with trauma, is personal.
“I grew up in a family that had domestic violence and abuse and stuff like that, and got out of it, and so having experienced the things I did, it helps me to kind of be empathetic and understanding of others who experience the same kind of thing,” she said.
She also has a mental health diagnosis, and struggled in previous years, having attempted suicide in 2013.
“I really can kind of understand where other people are coming from,” she said.
She said she was shocked when she recieved the Newman Civic Fellowship. At other schools, fellows are required to take on a project. At Carroll, it’s not required, but Ritchie is hoping to do a project focusing on mental health and the stigmatization around it.
“We decided on mental illness and the stigmatization of mental illness because having a mental illness diagnosis myself and knowing that 1 in 5 individuals are diagnosed with a mental illness, there shouldn’t be the stigma that is around it,” she said.
Ritchie hopes to break down barriers on campus, and in the county, so people can have frank, open and honest conversations about mental health.
These days, Ritchie said she’s in “such a great place,” and she’s loving her ability to help others.
For her, giving back and helping others is something that just makes sense.
“I do it because I feel like I’m called to and like I should and that everyone should do service for each other,” she said.