We had the good fortune of connecting with Katya Armistead and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Katya, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
Being curious, determined, and persistent best describe how I have come to be who I am today. Because I stuck it out when things have been hard, as a person of color, in places I did not feel like I belonged or understood how to navigate, and because I asked a lot of questions and worked hard to understand, I was able to persist and succeed. I am a lifelong learner and am pushing myself every day to read, explore, and listen so that I can be my best self and of service to others.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I started my career in higher education a couple of years after I graduated from UC Santa Barbara (UCSB). I entered UCSB as a first-generation and low-income student. I was completely out of my element as a mixed-raced person (Black and white) and not quite academically ready to enter the world of a predominately white high-achieving institution. Honestly, I am not completely sure how I survived, but perhaps it was due to the few supportive friendships that I had cultivated and some caring supervisors. My first career position at UCSB was as an administrative assistant. I had learned a lot about working within an office during my time as a work-study student and a year-long stint in New York working in an Advertising Agency. Perhaps that is really the part of the beginning of my story. I for some reason had the audacity early in my life to take advantage of opportunities afforded to me and took some risks. Attending UCSB was a risk. Accepting a job as a camp counselor in New Hampshire my sophomore year in college (and went back for the next four years) was a risk. And moving to New York without a job or much money was another risk. So, moving back to Santa Barbara and seeking a low-level position at UCSB was not a risk, but instead provided me a foundation to continue my learning and provided me the grounding to excel in the areas I am most passionate about.
What I am most proud of about myself is taking on challenges that push me to grow. As an administrative assistant, in the office of admissions, I made it a point to learn all there was to know about the world of admissions.
I took on projects that were beyond my pay grade and I asked a lot of questions. I volunteered to be on committees and I ventured out beyond my department looking for how to immerse myself even more into the workings of a university. I would say what was unique about me was how I was not trying to achieve a more prestigious title or larger paycheck. I genuinely wanted to be of service and learn. I advanced to a new position within the department three years later and became the campus visit coordinator. I loved this job. I got to bring first-generation, low-income, and students of color to visit the campus for the day and share the message that they belonged on the campus just as much as anyone else. I eventually became an assistant director and learned about an opportunity to pursue my master’s degree in education, even though I did not have a stellar undergraduate GPA. My time pursuing my master’s was eye-opening and even though I had a good amount of responsibility as an assistant director and mom to two small children, I loved it.
I continued staying open to learning and focused my attention on supporting students on campus. I was asked to be the advisor to the Black Student Union (BSU) and unofficially advised several student organizations. Beyond being integrated into the campus community, I also became involved with non-profit work within the Santa Barbara community. Four organizations were especially impactful to my growth personally and professionally. The first one is Postpartum Education for Parents (PEP). This organization is entirely run by volunteers and I held several officer positions, including three years as the chair. I learned a lot about human resource work as the vice-chair of Santa Barbara County’s American Red Cross chapter. And I explore the scary world, to me anyway, of development as a board member for one of the oldest non-profit organizations in Santa Barbara County, Family Service Agency (FSA). I was also co-board president for three years during the last of my ten years on the board. And the non-profit that I am now contracted to do leadership work and was just recently asked to be on the board of is Leading From Within (LFW). My involvement with their eighteen-month program, Katherine Harvey Fellows (KHF), as a young professional informed me of our county’s issues and our abundance of non-profits. My cohort decided to start our own non-profit, Youth Making Change (YMC), which mirrored our work as a cohort but focused on youth. I’m pleased that the program is over ten years old and continues to thrive under The Fund for Santa Barbara.
Not long after completing my master’s degree, my Vice-Chancellor approached me asking me to move from the office of admissions and join the student life team. In 2007 I was an assistant dean within the office of student life, just beginning my journey to be a doctoral student within our graduate school of education (GGSE), was playing lots of soccer, a mom of two busy children (who also played a lot of soccer!), and a member of two non-profit boards.
I currently hold the title of Dr. Katya Armistead, assistant vice chancellor and dean of student life. I am a certified facilitator of The Leadership Challenge, teach Introduction to Leadership Theory to upper-division undergraduates, am a co-facilitator of an emerging leaders program for folks who work in non-profits and do Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work with a local non-profit, Just Communities, and consulting practice, Equity Praxis Group. I am proud of what I have accomplished and how I have made a difference in the lives of students and my community.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Hey friend, let’s start our day in Santa Barbara early by taking my puppy for a walk downtown from where I live to the Santa Barbara Wharf. Our first stop on the way will be my favorite coffee spot, Dune. On the way back we’ll stop at a favorite breakfast spot, either Dawn Patrol or JJ’s Diner.
Next, we can visit the Santa Barbar museum, which is open even though you can tell there is remodeling happening, lunch at Crush Cakes, and then an afternoon hike to Inspiration Point. For dinner let’s go to Sama Sama or Arigato.
Over the next few days, we can hit other coffee spots like Caje, they have fancy coffee drinks and a great patio to hang out on. We should check out the Moxi Children’s museum that is just as much fun for adults, have some wine and cheese at the Mission’s Rose Garden, check out the Botanical Garden, and have dinner at The Palace, Lark, and Loquita. And of course, we have to spend an afternoon or two at the Funk Zone and Del La Guerra Plaza for wine tasting. If you like beer, there are several breweries in town as well. We can also purchase our favorite bottle of wine and head to the beach to enjoy a sunset and some wine. C’est Cheese will make us an amazing cheese platter to take as well.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I intentionally surround myself with brilliant and loving folks, including my family and wonderful friend, Sonja Montiel, who suggested me for this project. The folks in my life have encouraged and supported me to be my best self as I have strived to be a lifelong learner who focuses on making a positive difference within my community.