North American Studies (M.A.)

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Katja Urbatsch, Founder & CEO

Please describe shortly your current profession. How does your typical day at work look like?

I am the founder and CEO of the non-profit organization ArbeiterKind.de. ArbeiterKind.de encourages and helps students from families without higher education experience to become First Generation university students. Our 6,000 volunteer mentors in 80 local groups continue to support these students throughout their stay at university right up until their successful graduation and their first job. I have a leadership and management role, therefore I am leading my staff members, our projects as well as the organization as a whole and I have a representative role so that I give interviews, talks and take part in discussions at events.

Why did you apply for a degree in North American Studies?

In my youth I played Basketball and got interested in the US. When I was 16 I spent three months with a host family and visited a High School in Utah. Since then I have been very interested in the US and especially in US-American literature and culture. As a first generation university student I also thought I had to study something “practical” so I took communication and business economics as minors.

When and how did you choose your current profession? Did you realize your plans from the time of your studies?

I would have never guessed what I am doing, today. After finishing my master’s degree I got a job at the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC) at the Justus Liebig University Giessen and started my dissertation. During that time I launched the website ArbeiterKind.de as a volunteer project in 2008. It was an instant success and started growing so fast that it very quickly became my job. I am still amazed that ArbeiterKind.de has become my job. I have to admit that during my time at JFK I was unsure about what kind of job I could do and find afterwards. I thought about going into Public Relations. I am very happy that I got and took the chance to build my own organization. I have been impressed by the way that I rose to the challenges and how much I have learned.

What in your opinion is the most important thing for your work that you learned during your studies? What do you still profit from?

I learned to be curious and that I can reach an understanding of an unfamiliar topic by doing research. I also learned how to do this research and write papers in an academic language in German as well as in English. In general I developed as a person and found out what I am interested in and what I am good at. I broadened my horizon and gained self-confidence. As the first in my family who reached a university degree, I gained knowledge of the academic world and the way academics live and work. Today, I am working in this academic world and my degree gave me the necessary foundation. At the same time I still know where I am coming from and where I started so that I have an understanding of those who have not gone to university or their children who are thinking about going to university as the first in their family. That is the perfect combination for my job.

Which additional qualifications should one gain as a student that are crucial or useful for your current profession?

I graduated in the old Magister system while Bachelor’s and Master’s programs were newly established. We took a lot of classes we didn’t get credits for, but were just interested in. I think that it is very important to use the time as a student to develop as a person, to find out one’s interests and to discover new things about oneself and about the world. So my advice is to not only focus on the credits and the degree, but to look beyond. Also, I would strongly encourage students to study abroad. I studied at Boston University for 9 months and it was one of the best times in my life.

Is there anything from the Master's program of North American Studies that evokes especially strong memories?

I have so many memories of the wonderful community at the JFK. Exchanging thoughts in the “Cafete” with fellow students, inspiring lectures, passionate teachers and looking into the amazing range of books in the library. The JFK has been a very inspiring and supportive place for me. In addition, I met my partner at an evening lecture in the JFK about the US Bachelor’s and Master’s System.

What advice would you give the students who would like to pursue a similar career?

Pursue what you are passionate about and surround yourself with people who believe in you and see what you are capable of. Ask other people who are at positions you would like to reach for advice.