Katie (Gillis) Tenney, CSH'09

As far back as she can remember, Katie (Gillis) Tenney, CSH'09, has felt most at home helping others. In fact, despite admitted struggles with self-confidence in school, the Northeastern University alumna says she’s long been certain that she would become a teacher. “Intuitively, I always wanted to help people understand concepts,” Katie explains. “Regardless of whether it was for a child or an elderly person, working through a game or a math formula, I wanted to teach. There was nothing else for me.”

Armed with an organic curiosity and inherent understanding of how people process information, the energetic coed excelled as a peer tutor in her four years at Northeastern, working one-on-one with fellow students. “I wanted to help them find their own learning styles,” says Katie. In 2009, she was presented with Northeastern’s Compass Award for demonstrating leadership, compassion, and care in matching students with tutors. That same year, she graduated cum laude, as her father, Roland Gillis, LA’72, had done 37 years prior.

Though her collegiate path was packed with various peer mentoring opportunities, it was during Katie’s first co-op at the Heath School in Brookline, Massachusetts—partnered with several volunteer community projects—that her calling became apparent. “I had the opportunity to interact and observe elementary students with moderate disorders.” she recalls. “Working closely with one student with severe physical and developmental handicaps in particular, helped mature me, and validated I was where I needed to be.”

Post-graduation, she went on to earn her master’s degree in moderate disabilities—with a focus on autism—from Lesley University in Cambridge.

Katie now teaches at an elementary school in Natick, Massachusetts, where she works with children who have severe emotional and behavioral disorders, including autism, and she specializes in keeping these students in mainstream school districts.

On her decision to attend Northeastern University: “I wasn’t one hundred percent sure about attending the university, where six of my family members had graduated from. I was seventeen, stubborn, and reluctant to follow my family’s footsteps.” Now, the devoted teacher credits Northeastern’s unique educational model with helping her to discover her career path, her confidence, and, more importantly, her passion.

On the aspects of the co-op program that proved most positive: “The co-op program provided me with the proper tools to succeed in the real world. Even before we started our co-op, we were taught what to wear, what to do, how to interview, how to wear your hair, what not to put on Facebook, and even how to handle rejection. I left Northeastern with an upper hand.  I was prepared—the school prepared me. If I had not had that training, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Katie hails from several generations of Huskies! Meet her father, Roland Gillis, LA'72.