Catherine Holm, a senior in the business program at Penn State Schuylkill, stands outside Tredegar, a plastic film manufacturer where she interns.

Around the Globe and Back: Future Leader Sets Roots in Schuylkill County

Scholar, leader, veteran, mother—Holm escapes a succinct description. Except, perhaps, “asset.”

By: Samantha Bower

Dedicated, motivated, disciplined, ambitious—all of these terms describe Catherine Holm, a senior marketing and management business major at Penn State Schuylkill. Holm is a wrench-turning, craft-loving, outdoorsy globe hopper, and her journey took her from Palo Alto, Pennsylvania, through 11 years in the Air Force and all around the globe. A clear leader, her determination will be an indispensable asset to the community as she sets roots in Schuylkill County.

Holm grew up in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, where she graduated from Pottsville Area High School. Throughout her childhood, she watched her grandfather and father operate their family-owned contracting business, Kauffman Contracting, now in its third generation. Although mechanically adept, “My dad didn’t want me turning wrenches,” she says, explaining that he wanted her to apply her keen critical-thinking skills elsewhere.

But her tenure in the Air Force challenged her father’s aspirations. Holm is a Technical Sergeant / E-6, specializing as an Aerospace Ground Equipment Craftsman. Over five short months, Holm was trained in the principles of electricity, electronics, general mechanics, heating, refrigeration, pneumatics, hydraulics, and reciprocating and turbine engines. She learned how to repair aircraft support equipment such as diesel generators, gas turbine generators, air compressors and air conditioners. Air Force training is hands-on and experience-based, and Holm was fortunate to complete her training in a maintenance and repair shop while some of her cohorts simply performed inspections on the support equipment. She also administered several special programs for the Air Force, including a Lean Six Sigma program, a continuous improvement plan that helps establish best practices.

While she appreciated the problem-solving aspect of being a technician during her time in the Air Force, Holm especially loved that the armed forces took her all over the world. Holm’s first deployment took her to South Korea for one year. She later spent five years in Germany and six months in Qatar before returning stateside, where she lived in several states in the U.S. Traveling across the globe can be lonely, but Holm has a great travel buddy—her twelve-year-old son, Gabriel. “He wasn’t around for South Korea, but he was born in Germany. I’d really like to travel more after I graduate, too.”

After her time in the Air Force, Holm traveled back to Palo Alto and applied to Penn State Schuylkill. She chose the business degree program with a focus in marketing and management and began considering her future—especially entrepreneurship. Holm has food sensitivities and sees a market for opening a specialty bakery or a fun breakfast spot that offers more than your typical breakfast. A Jeep enthusiast, she notes, “Jeeps are a big thing around here,” explaining that she also contemplates opening her own Jeep modification business.

For Holm, choosing Penn State Schuylkill was simple because the campus’s location helps her stay in touch with family and focus on her studies. Additionally, Holm praises the support she receives from Schuylkill faculty and staff, especially the guidance provided by Gina Whalen, lecturer of business and internship coordinator, and Tina Rose, coordinator of career services. In fact, she credits each of them for their role in helping her secure a human resources internship at Tredegar Corporation, a high quality plastic film manufacturer serving companies involved in the production of mobile phones, computer screens and packaging for common household products.

According to Whalen, Holm “immediately displayed a high level of inquisitiveness when we began discussing economic issues in class. She sees the bigger picture, and at the same time, her empathetic nature enables her to look deeper to see the details of an issue that most people would overlook.” Holm is the perfect fit for a human resources internship.

At Tredegar, Holm completes tasks typical to any job in human resources, assisting with employee recruitment, onboarding, labor relations, employee relations, and training. But her ambition and experience have garnered her additional responsibilities, such as helping develop streamlined processes and standards of work—informed by her time administering Lean Six Sigma classes—and she is also working on other key projects in areas of safety and continuous improvement.

Business classes focusing on survey and data collection, Microsoft Excel, and even calculus have proven useful during her time at Tredegar. But while Holm enjoys that her internship integrates her varied skills, her favorite part of her internship is the people. “I love working with a variety of personalities,” she says.

Holm is a member of Alpha Sigma Lambda, the adult honor society, as well as SALUTE, the veteran’s honor society, and most recently participated in a summer leadership conference at Penn State University Park. During the conference, keynote speaker Justin Jones-Fosu offered advice that has since resonated with her: figuring out her, “why.” Why does she do what she does, and what must she be to become the best version of herself? After listening to his speech, she says, “I needed to evaluate those things so I can be the best leader possible and find a career where I’ll not only excel, but also be truly happy.”

Scholar, leader, veteran, mother—Holm escapes a succinct description. Except, perhaps, “asset.” From around the globe and back, Schuylkill County is lucky to have her.