Dr. Katherine Steele has been a part of the Pat Tillman Foundation for nearly decade. A 2014 Tillman Scholar and former Director of Programs for the Foundation, she has not only seen the growth and impact of our work, but she has been facilitating it. This, among countless other attributes, made her the perfect mantle to lead the Pat Tillman Foundation into the future, shaping the work we do in service of our remarkable scholar community.
We had the opportunity to catch up with Katherine to learn more about her background and what led her to where she is today! Check out what she has to say below:
Tell us about your background.
“I have always loved school, so it made sense that I started my career as a teacher. I got certified to teach K-12, allowing me to work nationwide. When I returned to school to get my Masters in Educational Administration, I transitioned from classroom teaching to principal life. I spent several years working as a high school administrator (I even got to be the Assistant Principal at my own kid’s school for a while – the jury is out on how they felt about having their mom with them all day!) I went back to school (did I mention I love school) to get my doctorate in Leadership and Learning in Organizations. Then, I had an opportunity to transition into corporate America. I worked at FedEx Freight in their Learning and Development division for several years, working to create leadership programming for the FedEx team. I’ve been able to continue teaching as an adjunct professor (can’t keep me out of a classroom) and now get to work with all these amazing scholars committed to lifelong learning and making an impact!”
Why did you want to take the CEO role at Pat Tillman Foundation?
“I have been part of the Pat Tillman Foundation as a scholar for nearly ten years. Being on the receiving end of the amazing programming, network, and community of Tillman Scholars and supporters has been the most incredible privilege of my life. When you find an organization you are passionate about, it makes sense to try and find ways to immerse yourself in that work as much as possible. I want to give back to the foundation by serving in a new way – my cup has been filled year after year as a result of my relationship with the Pat Tillman Foundation. As CEO, I now have the privilege to work for the PTF, our scholars, and our supporters and continue to do work so that others can find their passion.”
You were most recently the Director of Programs at PTF. What’s been your favorite part of that role?
“Hands down, the scholars! The entire program team gets to work with and for the scholars day in and day out, and it is just plain fun! The energy you receive from a conversation with a scholar is incredible, and it drives you to do the work and do it well.”
You’re a PTF Scholar yourself; when did you become a Scholar? Tell us about your experience.
“I was selected in 2014 to be a Tillman Scholar, and the foundation helped pay for my Masters Degree at George Washington University. When you get selected to be a scholar the foundation invites you to the Pat Tillman Leadership Summit in Chicago – basically three days in leadership development sessions with 150 Tillman Scholars who are your new best friends. I ended that weekend motivated and encouraged to do more, work harder, and be better. Tillman Scholars just make you want to make an impact – there is this commitment and responsibility not just to the scholars but to the foundation and the legacy of Pat. Every time I get to hold space with even one scholar, I feel that same passion I felt in 2014. It’s a remarkable group of people.”
What advice do you have for anyone curious about the PTF Scholars program?
“Talk to a scholar! There are 871 Tillman Scholars, and they are the most friendly and welcoming humans you will meet. If you want to know more about what it means to be a scholar or how you can support the foundation, just ask. They will get to know you, connect with you, explore what you’re passionate about, and find ways to help you realize the impact you want to make in the world.”
What motivates you?:
“People! So many people have this incredible passion for the foundation – whether you are a Tillman Scholar, a Pat’s Run participant, a staff member, a donor, or if you knew Pat – the people who show up for PTF are so committed to serving the foundation in whatever way they can. For me, this dedication of so many humans who want to continue the legacy of Pat through the foundation and the amazing work of the scholars makes me want to do my best day in and day out.”
What is your leadership style?
“My goal is always to expand the impact, give energy, and instill a positive culture in the teams I work with. I’ve learned from a very dear friend and talented leader that this happens by being Available, Accessible, Approachable, and Accountable. Focusing on those four A’s is critical to leadership – my favorite leaders are those who lean into those four A’s, and I work daily to do the same.”
What are things you like to do outside of the Foundation?
“Talk about the Foundation while wearing PTF gear! I love finding time to be with my people. I get energy from others, so I am always up for a chance to connect with friends and family. Free time? I am going to be traveling with my fiancé, reading or taking a class (because I’m a nerd at heart), and always snuggling with my two great danes (who are not so little)!”:
Can you tell us one thing about yourself that might surprise people?
“Most people are surprised when I tell them I have two kids who are adulting in the world! My son, Mitchell, is 22 and is finishing his masters at Arizona State University (go Sun Devils). My daughter Kayley is 20 and graduates this year from UCLA! They are my biggest accomplishment, and I can’t believe I have kids who are so old!”
Which of the Pat Tillman Foundation Core Values resonated most with you?
“IMPACT. When I think of the word impact, I think of the force of one object on another – a collision. For me, this idea of being a force in the spaces where we live and work as people is important. How are we showing up and how are we colliding with the other forces around us for good. I see the effect of impact in our scholars in so many ways, whether a small ripple or a large one – our scholars have committed to being a force, colliding with other forces, all to make a positive IMPACT in the spaces and places that matter to them.”