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Katherine Cassel: Resilience Reaps Rewards

Aug 9, 2022

Katherine Cassel and her three children have just moved to Fargo, North Dakota, where she is starting a new job as a nurse. The path that got her there is a remarkable one.

Originally from Milwaukee, Cassel grew up in an extremely difficult home environment. She did not attend high school, but was able to obtain her G.E.D. and subsequently enroll at Bryant & Stratton College, a technical school. Although she was not able to stay long, she was pleasantly surprised to find that she was able to maintain a 4.0 GPA.

This success encouraged Cassel to matriculate at Marquette University, but after one semester it was clear that the tuition demands were going to be overwhelming. Cassel signed up with the U.S. Navy Reserve in May 2016, working as a construction mechanic in Great Lakes, Illinois until August 2018.

Despite these strides in the progress of her education and her working life, when Cassel returned to Milwaukee, adversities mounted to the point that she endured a period of homelessness. The negative momentum reversed when she moved to Indiana, where she promptly found a job and also began her freshman year at IU South Bend.

Before long, Cassel was thriving and almost immediately she was helping her classmates achieve as well. In her time at IU South Bend, Cassel was involved in myriad activities outside of the classroom. A partial list of her involvements includes work with the Student Veterans Organization, the National Society of Leadership and Success, and advocacy for the Students With Dependents initiative. Cassel also rose to the position of vice president of the Honors Program and president of the Student Nurses Association.

A recurring theme emerged: family. Just as IU South Bend welcomed Cassel and her three children Alizeer, Rose, and Devon into a community that served as a surrogate extended family, Cassel wanted to make sure that others had a similar experience. Working as a peer mentor at the Titan Success Center allowed Cassel to reach out to underperforming students flagged by the Student Engagement Roster. Her work with the Student Nurses Association led to the Keep the Children Warm donation drive in December 2021.

It was a perfect fit for me, because I have kids too, and I understand the struggle, Cassel said.

The goods donated to the Keep the Children Warm drive went to children at Liberty Elementary School in Mishawaka.

In the winter months, someone might have a pipe freeze and burst, and they aren’t even able to shower, Cassel said.

The drive brought in winter clothing and essential hygiene items. Cassel said that children lacking basic necessities at home can be extra vulnerable to bullying and they also face a network of obstacles that such a fundamental disruption can cause.

Cassel’s work as a peer mentor with Titans Mentoring Titans often involved identifying common-sense solutions for problems that plenty of students encounter.

Each semester, there were five or six students I’d regularly check in on, giving them tours of the campus, making sure they had their student IDs, making sure they could find their classes and that they knew where everything was, Cassel said.

All these efforts contributed to Cassel being named Chancellor’s Student Worker of the Year for 2022. Cassel was able to help others in the same spirit with which she was greeted by mentors such as Neovi Karakatsanis, director of the Honors Program.

Dr. K does so much for the students, Cassel said. We went on trips, we went to plays, museums, Shedd Aquarium. We had bonfires and she would always welcome my kids. She makes the Honors Program feel like a family, feel like home.

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