Having graduated from KO and married to a fellow KO student who also teaches at the school, you could say that Kathleen DiSanto is a dyed-in-the-wool Wyvern. “Coming to KO as a student was a big deal for me,” she said. “I felt like I was breathing air for the first time. Every student was pursuing their passion, and we were doing it together with the full support, encouragement, and enthusiasm of our teachers.” Kathleen described KO as a place where she faced academic challenges that she had never been exposed to before, and where she found her fascination and affinity for physics.
After she received her master’s degree in mechanical engineering, she held increasingly senior positions as a structural analyst in defense systems, evaluating heat shields for manned Mars missions. She also designed and analyzed a mounting structure for high-energy lasers. Eventually, she became a senior structures engineer at Pratt & Whitney in the composite materials group. Although she found the work satisfying, she began to realize what was really important to her which was being part of a community and helping people.
“When I taught my first lesson after leaving the corporate world,” she said, “I knew that teaching was for me. It was absolutely exhilarating. I’m constantly pushing myself to be a better teacher by finding problems and fixing them. I try to minimize lectures to find more progressive means for learning and to center lessons around the students. It’s important to their learning that the kids guide what they’re doing. I chase that.”
An empathetic educator, DiSanto tries to get into the kids’ shoes and feel their frustrations and discomfort when learning new things. That includes allowing students to make mistakes because she believes it’s where the best learning takes root. “Although I had no idea how to build a robot, I developed one completely through trial by fire,” she said. “Robotics is an excellent, open-ended, project-based experience that gives you a goal, and you strategize and problem solve how to achieve it. After my experience, I had a new appreciation for the students’ work, energy, and focus. Building these relationships with the students, understanding their thought processes and identifying with their challenges is one the most important aspects of teaching.”
As the mother of two young children, DiSanto leads a busy life, which doesn’t allow for much free time. But that hasn’t prevented her from sewing outfits for her children’s stuffed animals, which she likens to a mathematical and precise exercise. Dutifully, every morning she practices the cello that she hopes to master, a process that requires cultivating some hard-earned calluses. “I’m always setting myself up for the next challenge, and I share these experiences with my class,” she said. “I want my students to see that learning never stops and that life is not linear. Hopefully, as teachers, we’re continually growing and creating and encouraging our students to develop this same sense of curiosity.”
Kathleen DiSanto ’03
Washington University in St. Louis – B.S.
Harvard University – M.S.