Join us as we uncover the stories and roles of Katyanna Taylor, People for PSEO's current Research Director and Digital Director alongside Thea Pappas, current Registration Director, and discover the remarkable individuals helping shape the future of PSEO education.
What personal experiences or encounters led you to join People for PSEO and become an advocate for its mission?
Katyanna: I first learned about People for PSEO through personal research. At the time of my enrollment in 2019, I wasn't initially aware of the wealth of information now available from People for PSEO. However, closer to my graduation, I took a closer look at their website and stumbled upon their Instagram page. There, I discovered that People for PSEO was writing short stories about PSEO students. As someone with a strong interest in blogging, I decided to seize the opportunity and emailed them, expressing my interest in sharing my story. A few weeks later, the blog writer at that time reached out to me, sent me drafted questions, and a few days later, my story was up on Instagram. I vividly remember standing in my kitchen with a smile on my face.
A year later, after my first year at university following PSEO, I posted on my Instagram that I was available to answer any questions about PSEO. I was motivated to do so because a high school friend of mine, who also happened to be my former neighbor, asked me how I managed to do it. Thus, I started answering her questions and eventually expanded my responses to a wider audience. At the time, I was unaware that People for PSEO's Instagram account was following me. However, my posts caught their attention and were received at the right time. It turned out that People for PSEO was actually looking for a social media manager.
Thea: My first encounter with People for PSEO was when my close friend Katyanna at the time became the social media manager. Katyanna and I went to high school together and enrolled in the same college for PSEO. We happened to be enrolled in the same class which was also one of our high school requirements, this was a geography class which was one of my favorite courses I ended up ever taking in my college career. It wasn’t only because we had a great professor, it ended up in Katyanna and I becoming great friends. Katyanna then ended up moving after graduation to San Diego for college.
We were then catching up on a call one day when she began explaining to me that she landed a job advocating for PSEO and was currently doing People for PSEO’s social media work. It was then she told me PPSEO was looking for volunteers to assist in creating social media posts. I thought to myself that I absolutely loved my time as a PSEO student and all that the program has done for me so I decided to help volunteer by creating Tik Toks. It was one night I was scrolling through the app and heard a sound that featured one of my favorite cartoons growing up, Regular Show. I randomly recorded an idea I had for it, posted it before going to sleep, then the next day I saw that it got great traction. I continued helping out when I could and providing information to prospective students who interacted with our posts and it was then that I was offered to be a part of the team. I am extremely grateful for how everything unfolded and now being able to advocate for the program, assist students and families, and grow through my work is greatly fulfilling.
As a staff member at People for PSEO, could you share a specific moment that deeply resonated with you and reaffirmed your dedication to empowering students through the PSEO program?
Katyanna: As staff members at People for PSEO, last fall we had the opportunity to attend our organization's annual board meeting. Here, alongside community members and board members, gathered around a long brown table for discussions. We covered various topics, including an overview of the goals from the past year, analytics, testimonials, and a well-deserved award ceremony to acknowledge the contributions of past members. Prior to this meeting, some of us had never met the founder, Aaliyah Hodge. During the meeting, we had the chance to sit at a table and listen to her speak. Witnessing our goals visually and hearing about our articulated growth instilled a sense of promise for change. Additionally, we had the pleasure of meeting students who were starting their first semester of PSEO. Coincidentally, two of the high school students who attended happened to be going to the same college.
Thea: A specific moment that deeply resonated with you and reaffirmed my dedication to empowering students was the day we presented to over 1,000 students about dual credit options in the state of Minnesota. People for PSEO has been granted the opportunity to present to various AVID classrooms across the state and spread information about how students can expand their educational experiences through access to higher education while in high school. Knowing that many students receive this information untimely or not at all, I felt gratitude knowing that we were able to reach so many students and help bridge the current information gap.
In your interactions with students, what are some common concerns or fears they express about the PSEO program, and how do you address them to instill confidence and alleviate their worries?
Thea: Common fears I have seen students express about the PSEO programs are that they tend to doubt their abilities. I have had many students communicate with me that they’re unsure that they’re capable of doing college coursework and the potential of failing a college class. I address these students by affirming that they are capable and smart enough to succeed. Even if you do fail you still have the opportunity to try again which is the most important part. I believe that it all boils down to knowing one’s individual learning style and time management skills. I like to be honest with students and emphasize that enrolling in college classes is a complete shift from high school. Whether it be in the sense of environment or curriculum, so it’s important to set up a schedule that best fits their needs. Time management is a huge skill I like to highlight to students and let them know that in college, you have to pace yourself and keep yourself on track with when assignments are due, compared to high school where you see your teacher every single day and are consistently reminded. As long as the student is able to identify their strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities I believe that will take them as far as the student is looking to go. Whether a student is looking to take one class through their local college or earn a college degree before graduating high school, it makes me extremely happy to just see students push themselves by seizing the opportunity of saving future time and money on their college endeavors.
As a staff member, what do you find most fulfilling about supporting students?
Thea: What I find most fulfilling about supporting students is when I can assist them in any part of their process. Whether it be the part where they’re deciding if PSEO is a good choice for them, to providing resources and information that can help assist in the enrollment process is deeply fulfilling. I was not well aware about the PSEO program until the middle of my sophomore year and I still felt like I was not given enough information while enrolling that it seemed like I had to go through the process by learning a lot myself. If People for PSEO can be a resource and support to students and families through this process at all, I feel fulfilled.
Katyanna: As Maya Angelou once said, “ when you learn, teach, when you get give”. This is why she was inspired to teach, but her words inspire me to help others. With the knowledge we accessed early as high school students we can give back to a community of young like minded individuals. By providing students access to limited information, People for PSEO’S impact is like a bridge to educational autonomy. Tonight, I checked my email and found my name under People for PSEO research in a news article in Ohio. I smiled. To know that someone picked up our research, wrote a news article, and a student is led to this information makes my heart warm. It is the core reason I am driven to do what I do in the first place.
Are there any research studies or projects conducted by People for PSEO that you have actively contributed to or found particularly impactful in shaping the organization's work?
Katyanna: Yes, this past semester, I had the opportunity to collect data for People for PSEO's annual information gap report. It was something I had never done before: researching each school's website, transferring numbers to Excel, writing formulas, and creating graphs. It felt overwhelming, as if it was a task bigger than myself. However, after a few late nights fueled by Red Bull and determination, I secretly began to enjoy it. Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying working with data and realizing that technology is a strong skill of mine.
Moving into the spring semester, Zeke Jackson and I collaborated on drafting the second report. We wrote and wrote, encountering some errors with the numbers along the way, but we fixed them and continued writing. I am grateful to have a partner to conduct the research with. Throughout this process, I gained extensive knowledge about PSEO law, practically immersing myself in it every day for six straight months. It's remarkable how research and accountability can be a blessing in disguise, leading to radical change.
Thea: A project I have found particularly impactful was our recent publication of the PSEO information gap report. This really helped open my eyes to the current educational gap highschoolers throughout the state face. The research department worked very hard on this project and it’s awesome to see the final product and see the traction it’s made through media outlets. Seeing my coworkers gain the recognition they deserve for their hard work and being able to show the public that this is an issue that needs to be addressed, is nothing short of remarkable. PSEO is a program that we are very blessed to have in the state of Minnesota and it’s unfortunate that many students aren’t able to utilize it due to lack of information.
As for a project that I have been very involved in was presenting to AVID classrooms. Through this, I was able to present and interact with hundreds of students. I love working with the youth, they’re awesome. To put it simply: they’re the future. There’s so much they can do and are going to do and it’s been a blessing to be able to help bridge the information gap and show students how they can transform their educational experience. Through the projects that we implement and complete, it’s a step closer to the change we’re looking to see.
What advice would you offer to students considering the PSEO path?
Thea: Advice I would offer to students considering enrolling in PSEO is to pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses and opportunities. This will help them get a better grasp of how they can succeed when adapting to a totally different learning environment. Another piece of advice I would offer to students is to explore and consider what interests them while being in the program. PSEO offers the freedom to explore different paths and classes which may not be as accessible in their high schools. Through electives, it can help spark interest for what you really enjoy doing. Even if later on you decide it’s not a good choice, it’s affirming to know that PSEO has saved time and money in your actual college career so that you can explore even further. For myself, I thought computer science was going to be my future career, and upon going into college, I completely switched paths and found an interest in Supply Chain. It was a concept I really had no prior knowledge on, and once taking a supply chain course, it ignited a passion in me as I have always wondered how everything that we have and own got to where it is. Overall, I felt confident in my choice knowing I am still able to graduate a year early. So to all the students out there: Trust yourself and your decisions know it will all unfold the way it needs to.
Katyanna: Follow your dreams. No matter how cliche they may sound at the time, follow them. It’s not just about getting to the end goal, but taking the baby steps to get there. I had no idea that I’d be where I am today nor I ever imagined life aligning that way. Through PSEO I gained a community. I am connected with peers, educators, speakers and activists around the country. I get to learn so much through my work, through learning and teaching, I get to give. So follow your dreams no matter how silly they may seem.
By People for PSEO