A conversation with Marie Kottenstette, English alumna
Marie Kottenstette graduated from Catholic University in 2020 with a double major in English and Drama. While at Catholic U, she was featured in numerous campus theatre productions like Our Town and The Laramie Project, and she served as a resident assistant for her junior year in Regan Hall and her senior year in Opus Hall. She also served one, very riveting, semester her senior year, as the Senator for the Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art while the original senator was abroad. Since graduating, Marie has worked as a High School English teacher, and is now working as a podcast producer while pursuing her Masters in Education from Xavier University.
What is your current job/title?
I currently work as a Podcast Producer with Ascension Presents, but more specifically, I work as a producer on the Catechism in a Year Podcast with Fr. Mike Schmitz.
Why did you choose to study English at Catholic U.?
I was one of those very nerdy, lame kids who used to take those clip on lights and read under my covers. While other kids were hiding their Pink Nintendo DS under their pillows when their parents would walk in, I would hide whatever I was reading under my pillow and pretend to be asleep when my parents came in. So I’ve always loved books and reading. Then, when I started college at Catholic, I was just a Drama Major, but I took Dr. Murton’s Introduction to British Literature survey course my first semester freshman year, and since I’m a first-born daughter, and, therefore, an overachiever, I was like, “Gosh, I should be an English Major too, I think.” Also, if you make English your primary major, you don’t have to take two history classes like you do if Drama is your primary major, and I wanted the freedom that the Founding Fathers fought for, so the rest is history, I guess.
What was your path from graduation to your current job like?
Well, so… it wasn’t exactly super straightforward. I graduated in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, and I had a plan: I was going to get a great job in DC, and keep living in DC, and basically just live the “City-Girl-Recent-College-Grad” Dream in DC. But, that didn’t happen. I moved home to the middle-of-nowhere-Massachusetts and got a remote job processing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (or PUA) for the New York Department of Labor (or NYDOL), but after a few months, I decided I had had enough acronyms for a bit. So I took the only job I could find: High School English Teacher at my old high school. But then, towards the end of my second year teaching, I decided I wanted to go back to school and get my Masters in Education, but I couldn’t do that while maintaining my teaching work load, so I started looking for other jobs. And I honestly wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but then, I was at a Memorial Day party at some family’s house, and my (now) boss walked up to me and said, “You were an English Major, right?” and I was like, “How’d you know that?” momentarily forgetting that my general vibe is perpetually “I’ve definitely read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man at least three separate times,” and she was like, “Would you like to come and interview for an editor position at Ascension?” and I was like, “Is the Pope a Catholic?” (which is just some classic Catholic humor for you because Ascension is a Catholic company). And then I had an interview, and it turns out they were actually interviewing me for a producer position. So I stopped talking about my absolutely amazing editing skills that I developed while an English Major at Catholic, and started talking about my absolutely amazing attention-to-detail skills I developed while reading Joyce’s Ulysses in Dr. Baker’s Senior Seminar at Catholic. And I got the job.
What advice can you give senior majors and recent grads about life after graduation?
One: Stay in touch with your friends from Senior Sem. Even if that means just sending them the occasional literature related TikTok or Tweet.
Two: Don’t be too worried if things don’t go exactly the way you planned after you graduate. Everything always works itself out, even when it seems like it won’t. I promise.
How has your English background served you professionally?
I mean, where to start? As an English teacher, it was literally invaluable. I used it in some capacity basically every hour of every single school day. And you probably wouldn’t think that it would be equally as invaluable as a podcast producer, but it is. All of the titles and descriptions that you read for Catechism in a Year are written by a producer, so learning how to synthesize information and write it well is an indispensable skill. Also, the ability to pay attention to small details is incredibly important as a producer, so I think all of those sometimes-tedious, close-reading analyses I did are really starting to pay off.
What do you like the most about your job?
One genuinely very cool part of my job is that there are some really tangible ways to gauge the impact that Catechism in Year has on people, and one of those ways is getting to read through things like Facebook or Youtube comments. I love getting to read listeners' testimonies about how the project has impacted their life or a family member’s life. It’s such a gift to see that a project you work on is able to impact people’s lives in such a profound and positive way. Plus, I get to listen to all of Fr. Mike’s “dad jokes” every day, so… huge win there.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
I work remotely, so I get to live out my become-a-regular-at-a-coffeeshop-dream every day. I usually roll out of bed, take my dog out, and then head over to the local coffeeshop (very creatively named Coffeelands) to listen to whatever podcast episode I’m currently working on, and then listen to it again, and then listen to it one more time, just for good measure. And then I fact check some things, write up summaries of whatever the readings for the day were, and occasionally, I make highly specific work-related memes to send to the video editing team in Slack. One time though, while I was at the Land of Coffee, one of my favorite other regulars, who’s this old guy named Paul, came in and was like, “The apartment upstairs is on fire,” and because I’m so dedicated to my craft, I just said, “Oh wow” and kept working, and then he looked at me and said, “Nothing fazes you!” And I would like to attribute that to having taken Dr. Mack’s Shakespeare class when I was a sophomore.
What did you learn as an English major at Catholic U. that has stayed with you?
I mean, every so often a random fact about Maude Gonne will pop into my head, and “Who Noo Broon Coo” just plays in my head on a loop, actually.
But, in all seriousness, the thing that stuck with me the most is, one time during my Senior year, I had an advising meeting with Dr. Gibbons about this class I was having trouble with. And I was nannying this little girl at the time, so I had to bring her to the meeting with me, and while I was wrestling with her and also what I should do about this class, Dr. Gibbons said,
“It’s not the quality of your work that matters, it’s the quality of your love.”
And at the time, I was like, “Dude, that’s beautiful and all, but should I drop this class or not?” But now, I think about that quote all the time, and I genuinely think it was one of, if not the most, important thing I learned as a student at Catholic.
Do you have any advice for current English majors?
Just enjoy it. Enjoy it all.
And take Dr. Okuma’s Memoir class if you can.
Photo credits: Marie Kottenstette