Spotlight Interview: Kathryn Gigler

Kathryn Gigler: Director of Education & Community Engagement, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Pittsburgh, PA

WFU Class of 2010

Double Major: Psychology & Religion


Kathryn Gigler walks us through her path since graduation from WFU, the Pittsburgh creative scene, and quality advice picked up along her journey thus far.

DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake?

Kathryn Gigler: I double majored in psychology and what’s now known as religious studies, and participated in the honors psychology program.

DL: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?

KG: I went straight to graduate school at Northwestern University after graduating from Wake Forest, in pursuit of a doctoral degree in cognitive neuroscience, because I was really into the human brain. I started out with a focus on intervention work with older adults experiencing cognitive degenerative diseases, and ended up switching my focus to the more basic science around human memory systems.

At the same time, I realized I wanted to be doing more applied work in the world, and so I started volunteering in the field of anti-violence. I worked as a rape crisis counselor for the YWCA of Greater Chicago, and at Northwestern University as a member of their task force on sexual violence prevention and response.

It was then I discovered you could actually have a job in the field of social impact, and so I accepted the position of executive director of the Women’s Center at Elizabeth City State University, an HBCU in the UNC system. I loved the students and the work, but I still felt like something was missing. I decided to relocate to Pittsburgh, where my family is from, and I worked freelance gigs for a couple of years, serving as a consultant with HPW Associates and an advocate-educator with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape.

I had danced at the pre-professional level through high school, so when a position opened up at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, I was immediately interested. I had begun circling back to arts education via volunteer work in Pittsburgh, and was thrilled when I was offered the position of director of education and community engagement. I’ve been at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre since March 2019.

DL: What led to you decision to pursue a PhD, and how did you choose your particular program?

KG: When I graduated from Wake, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, other than that I wanted to have an impact and to make the world a better place. Looking back, I put pressure on myself to enroll in graduate school immediately after graduation. I googled “good programs in cognitive neuroscience” and found Northwestern University; as someone who had grown up on the east coast, I didn’t realize what a strong program it was during the application process! I ended up getting very lucky in Chicago and at Northwestern.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held (online, inside references, other outlets)?

KG: My career has been almost entirely interest-driven. For example, I decided I liked the brain, so I went to graduate school; I became passionate about violence prevention, and I toggled over to the social justice arena. For me, it has also always been about thinking about how I want to make a difference.

I do think there are different ways of positioning yourself to do that. I chose to relocate to Pittsburgh because of family, and because it’s somewhere I have always loved, and so I’ve been happy to build a life here. So location has been a huge additional factor in my career path.

Of course, reaching out to people is always a really great approach. I’ve found that in general, people like to help the people coming up behind them. Once you're there, you will want to help other people as well.

DL: What led you to choose a career in community education?

KG: I knew I wanted to move into an arts organization as a next step. I wanted to return to that positive change-seeking environment and have an immediate impact. I liked that people were drawn to see performance art, and to look for social impact with that art, and I personally had experience with dance versus other visual art forms. In Pittsburgh, I got involved with a local company, Attack Theatre, and I loved the work they were doing. I got to know the dance world in Pittsburgh, and I could see myself fitting in long-term. I felt that I could use the skills I had from my research background, and I knew that I would enjoy the community engagement piece given my strong relationships with various community organizations. The interest level was there for me, and luckily my skill set made it a good match.

DL: What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing a career in the space?

KG: Reaching out to anyone you know- or anyone you want to know- is a great place to start. In addition, lots of openings start out as volunteer opportunities, because many arts organizations are interested in hiring from within For this reason, I think it’s important to build relationships at specific organizations within the local arts scene. You want to be attending shows and talks and panel discussions. In addition, there are lots of great art-based meetups in most communities. These groups allow you to get your face out there and your profile known within the local scene.

DL: What do you think Wake could have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

KG: I do believe that a lot of this comes down to the work students are willing to put in to get involved on campus and in the community, because as an environment, Wake encourages people to pursue so many different interests. As an example, I loved the performing arts in college, but would never have attended the Secrest Artists Series if I hadn’t had a friend running that program, because I had so much else going on in my life; it took that personal connection to get me in the door. The staff and faculty care so much about the programs that are being put on, and it’s that last piece- getting students in the door- that sometimes seems to be the biggest hurdle.

Personally, I would have loved it if someone could have better linked arts, social impact, and science for me. I do think that Wake is now taking a more intersectional approach to the arts and sciences, and hopefully that is helpful to students like me!

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in Pittsburgh?

KG: The size of the city makes it a great place to be in the arts. It’s big enough that there are always all kinds of things going on, but small enough that there is a six degrees of separation mentality within the arts community. This feeling makes it easy to get involved, as you can go to one or two events and immediately feel connected to the larger community. I believe that this is true across artistic disciplines, and that this encourages collaboration and teamwork across institutions. For example, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre partners frequently with partners like the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Science Center, and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. There’s a lot of ecosystem building in Pittsburgh that makes it a very cool place to work in this sector.

DL: What is your favorite part about your job?

KG: I love relationship building, and I love working to make sure that the relationships I am building are based in trust. I love getting to know people and organizations, and cooperating to figure out what we each can do to improve each others’ experiences. Of course it’s fun being the one building monster puppets with kids at community festivals, but at the end of the day, it is for me about the larger social impact arts organizations are able to have, and that starts with one-on-one relationships.

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?

KG: I always say “try everything.” I wouldn't be where I was if I hadn’t done so at Wake, and I’ve been even luckier in my career path. I am a research nerd - I look everything up, and I deep dive into everything I’m interested in. As you can tell, I am passionate about a lot of different things! If you are interested in something, pursue it. The creative professions tend to be more vocational than typical 9-5 jobs, which can make careers difficult, but also so worth it. I believe that you know it when you feel it; follow your intuition as you make your way through your career path. Lots of good things are happening in the arts right now, and following your gut will help you find them.

Spotlight Interview: Kim Korzen

Kim Korzen: Major Gifts & Planned Giving Coordinator at North Carolina Symphony

Raleigh, NC

WFU Class of 2016

Major: Sociology

Minor: Dance


Kim Korzen shares on the journey to her present development role at Raleigh’s North Carolina Symphony. We learned about the robust performing arts scene in the Triangle, and pick up valuable tips for networking and post-grad life prep.

DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake?

Kim Korzen: I majored in Sociology and minored in Dance. I also took classes in many other subjects to fulfill requirements, of course, and I took some Spanish courses and studied abroad in Chile.

DL: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?

KK: I took my dream internship after graduation with the American Dance Festival in Durham, working in the Performances department, which primarily handled logistics for visiting artists. About a month after that concluded, I started working as the Engagement and Artistic Coordinator at Carolina Performing Arts, which is UNC Chapel Hill’s presenting organization. I was at CPA from September 2016 - December 2018. Now, as of January 2019, I am the Major Gifts and Planned Giving Coordinator at the North Carolina Symphony. I have been happy with how my career has unfolded so far!

DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held?

KK: I think I noticed the ADF internships for the first time in the summer of 2015 when I was looking at their upcoming performances on their website. I couldn't apply for the internship at the time because I was studying abroad during part of the internship, but I made a note to apply for it the next summer. I saw the CPA job initially on Twitter - an organization called Triangle ArtWorks in the area tweets out jobs periodically. For the North Carolina Symphony, I found the job on Indeed.

DL: What made you want to go into development, and what advice do you have for readers interested in breaking into the fundraising space?

KK: My position at Carolina Performing Arts involved helping with grants-funded projects, and I really enjoyed that aspect. It made me realize that I wanted to move into philanthropy. I love that fundraising involves many different types of work - like storytelling, data management, relationship building, and event planning. I like all the components, and I also like doing work that is so vital to organizations.

My biggest advice would be to not underestimate the value of the transferable skills you have. Though I did not have fundraising experience before beginning my current position, I had gained all the skills listed in the job description in other ways. The trick is being able to make those connections for your potential employer in your cover letter and interviews, and finding an employer that will understand your experience. I think my transition into philanthropy was made easier by staying in the arts, because my interviewers understood the work I had been doing. In addition, I sought out the advice of two former coworkers in philanthropy - my boss from ADF, who also broke into fundraising from working in the performances side of things, and the former grants manager at CPA who I’d worked with on multiple projects. They both were very helpful in speaking with me about their experience in philanthropy, highlighting for me how to discuss my transferable experience, and generally being encouraging. I also used them as my references, which was very helpful. So, I’d advise people to seek out mentors in the field, either in your colleagues or former colleagues, or through volunteering, who will be able to help prepare you as you apply for jobs, and also advocate for you.

DL: What is your favorite part about your job?

KK: I have been really touched by the deep connections that people have with the Symphony, and have enjoyed learning about longtime donors’ history with the organization from working in the philanthropy team. Because the Symphony was founded in 1932, many donors have grown up going to the Symphony, or remember seeing it as a student. One woman who is a donor mentioned in a note recently that her and her husband’s first date was to a North Carolina Symphony concert. I find those sorts of life-long connections really meaningful and motivating.

DL: What do you think Wake could have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

KK: This might be a bit tangential, but honestly I think allowing students to live off campus more would be very helpful in preparing students for life after graduation. My scholarship came with the caveat that I could not live off campus at all, and of course all students had to live on campus for three years. I think that this leads to a bubble-like environment, which does hinder students from making more strides towards “adult” life.

DL: What attracted you to Raleigh, and what’s kept you there?

KK: I moved to Raleigh to be with my now fiance, who was finishing up his undergraduate degree at NC State. We’ve stayed because we’ve built a life here - we have great friends, are happy with our careers, and are regularly rock climb at the gym nearby. I’m also happy to stay because there are lots of fun things to do in the Triangle, between performances, restaurants, special events, parks, etc. I feel like I have plenty more exploring to do. In fact, I got a bike this past winter that I’m looking forward to taking further and further - and also commuting on regularly. I found a dance class I love too, which is key.

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?

KK: Take the time to find things you enjoy doing professionally and personally - and if somethings not working for you, cut it out, and start looking for new opportunities if needed. And just breathe - the less stressed you are, the better you’ll feel, and the better work you’ll do (in your profession, and in anything else you want to pursue.)