Alumni Spotlight: Katrina

When she stepped up to the microphone in front of a crowd at the Hard Rock Café, Katrina McDow was filled with both nerves and excitement.  

Thirty years later, Katrina still vividly remembers the moment.  

She entered a speech competition at the Hard Rock at the encouragement of the staff of Higher Achievement and spent hours writing, memorizing, and preparing to present her speech. “It was a huge opportunity for me,” says Katrina. “It gave me a platform for my innate communications skills to shine. It also exposed me very early on to competition and how to overcome feelings of nerves.” 

Finally, the day of the speech competition arrived. Katrina stepped up to perform her speech: a reflection on her and her family’s history. She passionately recounted her grandfather’s background and how, despite having a 5th grade education himself, he put five children through college – two of whom went on to become doctors. “I got emotional as I performed the speech,” remembers Katrina. “I have this family history of achievement, and Higher Achievement helped me express it.” 

Katrina went on to win the speech competition. “I remember it all: the trophy and leather jacket I won, the feeling of accomplishment and confidence – it was one of the highlights of my time at Higher Achievement.” 

Looking back, Katrina sees that moment as one that shaped her career trajectory towards a future in communications and public relations. “I always wanted to be a writer,” says Katrina. “I knew early on what my strengths were, and Higher Achievement gave me a platform to practice those skills.” 

In particular, Higher Achievement helped Katrina build confidence in herself and her abilities. The staff fostered a community of positivity, high expectations, and a passion for growth. “I was at an age where I was building and solidifying who I was as a person, and Higher Achievement helped me to be confident and excel even further than I thought. You never stop building who you are, and as an adult, I still carry that spirit of excellence. I expect it from others and from myself.” 

Katrina credits her mom with getting her and her sister involved in a variety of programs like Higher Achievement after school and on weekends. “My mom was really influential in giving us opportunities to be around like-minded students and enhance what we learned in school. I owe her so much,” says Katrina. 

Now that she has children of her own, Katrina appreciates even more the importance of having a community of support surrounding young people. “Programs like Higher Achievement meant access and opportunities to show who I was and what I was good at. It makes me happy to see Higher Achievement expand and reach more scholars, and I hope I can get my own children involved in the program someday. That’s how much of a positive experience it was for me.”