UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT
Katherine Pohlidal is the director of Ruth Matthews Bourger Women with Children Program at Misericordia University. A native of Glen Lyon, she is a graduate of Bishop Hoban High School and Penn State University, where she earned a degree in sociology and psychology. She earned a master’s degree in education in counseling psychology from Penn State and an master’s degree in business administration from Alvernia University. She lives in Shavertown.
Meet Katherine Pohlidal …
Tell us a little about the Women with Children program at Misericordia.
It was started in 2000 by Sister Jean Messaros, who is now the vice president of mission integration at Misericordia. She discovered that there were a lot of single moms in the area that were trying to get into college but just couldn’t afford it. It was not a feasible option. And so she decided that she wanted to help single moms living at the poverty level get their four-year degree. Since then, we have been slowly building, and in 2017, we are up to three homes on our lower campus that house up to 16 families. Our target group is single mothers living at the poverty level in the Luzerne, Lackawanna and Wyoming county area, but we also accept women from all over the country. We’re one of only eight programs of its kind in the country. It’s a very, very unique program.
So the women studying in the program live on campus with their children?
Yes. It’s actually a pretty incredible program. Each house is community living, so our families share the space. Each mom and child get their own bedrooms, but it’s common living space on the main floor. The housing, for up to four years, is free. And it’s a gift from the university. We’re the only program in the country that does that. The women do pay for their tuition, but we’re constantly grant-writing and fundraising for scholarship dollars to keep their debt loads down. Our goal, for when they get their degree, is that they’re going to go off and be successful, which they are. We have 100-percent success if you graduate from our program. The goal is to break down the barriers of poverty, two generations at a time. And it works.
Besides economic status, what other prerequisites are there for these moms to be involved in the program? You also must be looking for people that are highly committed to finishing school.
It’s a tall order. And it’s not for everyone, because the rigor of the academics and the pressure that our women are under is pretty tremendous. A woman first has to be accepted to the university before they’re eligible for our program, so that creates that threshold of academic eligibility. But once they come in, our women are very high performers. They’re extremely committed. They’re full-time students/full-time moms, and they generally graduate at the top of their classes because they just work so hard.
What do you enjoy about it the most?
It’s very rewarding because you see these wonderful outcomes. Providing people that might not necessarily have a shot, the opportunity to get their degree and go on to fulfill their dreams, whether that be professionally or personally, is just tremendous. I am a firm believer that you can really make an impact if you give people an opportunity and a chance to do better for themselves.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love trail-running with my two dogs. I have two black Labs, and I love being outdoors and in nature. I also love to play tennis. I’m an avid tennis player.
Do you have any hobbies?
I love looking for antiques and old finds, and rehabbing old furniture. I always think that’s fun.
My tastes are pretty eclectic. It could be anything from old throwbacks like Ella Fitzgerald to Wynton Marsalis or Diana Krall. Or U2, or classic rock. And I love Led Zeppelin. It just depends on my mood.
Do you follow sports?
Penn State football and all Big Ten sports with Penn State. But especially football.
Philadelphia. I lived outside of Philly for almost 10 years. Before this job, I worked at Ursinus, and I just love Philly. I just love the history and the people.
Favorite vacation spot?
Favorite thing about NEPA?
The people. There’s just a unique type of person around here, which I think you recognize especially if you grew up around here. People are just sort of naturally more friendly. You’re in line at Wegmans, and people just start talking to you. And there’s just something about that. It’s part of our legacy. I appreciate the local culture.
My mom’s lasagna.
All-time favorite movie?
“Casablanca.” I like old things. I think maybe I’m just an old soul, but I trend towards older things, and I think that movie is just perfect in any way.
Favorite TV show?
I just watched “The Crown” series on Netflix and loved it.
Christmas. Just because of my family and all of the traditions that come with it.
Favorite quote or catchphrase?
“You’re never wrong to do the right thing” — Mark Twain.
Favorite book or author?
I love American history. And a book that really stands out is “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Biggest pet peeve?
When people are smoking in their car and they flick the butt out the window. I hate that. It drives me nuts.
Great red wine and Belgian chocolate. Preferably together.
Is there anything about you that might surprise even your friends?
I love motorcycles. I won’t get one, because I’d probably be doomed, but maybe someday. (Laughs) I actually have my permit. I was the only woman at the class at Harley-Davidson with all of these guys. It was just something I wanted to do. I love them. And that might surprise some people. There’s something freeing about it. One day I’d like to plan a trip and just go. I think it would be really cool to motorcycle through Europe.
Have you had a moment or experience that has helped shape you as a person?
I had a great opportunity to visit India around 2009. …. Being exposed to that dynamic of abject poverty really had a big impact on my perspective, in that people can still live and survive through a lot of different things. And at the same time, being at the Taj Mahal — it’s so immense and so beautiful. Seeing the juxtaposition of the two — there’s so many beautiful things in the world, and there’s so many harsh things in the world — and how do you find that middle ground? It gave me a lot of perspective, just about appreciating your life. And it’s helped to drive a lot of what I do, just because I think one person can make a difference, and one person can have an impact.
UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
photos by emma black