From a young age, Andrea Otto was always interested in the arts. “I loved just experimenting with art as a child. I loved dance and theater and performance so I wanted to do something creative, but I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to pursue as a career,” she said. “So I started taking classes at CCV.”
After finishing high school Andrea chose to take a few gap years and work before attending college. Those years of working in customer service roles, such as waitressing, helped her make the choice to go back to school. “Working was motivating because I was like, ‘I don’t know what my path should be for my future, but I don’t want to be a waitress for my whole life.’” College was a way for Andrea to find her path, “and also a way to be able to develop some creative expression as well.”
For Andrea, CCV was the practical choice. “I chose CCV because it was accessible; it was nearby and it was also very affordable and it seemed less intimidating at that point in my life,” she said. “I knew I wanted to stay in Vermont. I wanted to put down roots here and I didn’t really want to move myself away to an out-of-state university. It seemed like that was the most convenient way to get an education while also living here and working here.”
Andrea enrolled in CCV’s visual art program in 2010, which has now transformed into the design and media studies associate degree program. “I liked that the instructors were all local community members who were working in their fields…and had a deep understanding of our local community and were sharing that with us as students,” she said. “I also loved that the students were from all different ages, backgrounds, and socioeconomic status. I think that really challenged me as a person in helping with discussions and helping me see other perspectives that maybe I wouldn’t have considered from my own personal background.”
The support that Andrea received at CCV helped her reach her goal of earning a degree. She worked with career services, was a teacher’s assistant, a tutor, and also worked in the front office at CCV-St. Johnsbury. Andrea also worked with financial aid counselors for assistance with grants and scholarships. “They just provided me with so many different opportunities to pay for my schooling,” she said. “By the time I graduated I owed no money to the school.” Connections with instructors and peers, and the personalized support that Andrea received from CCV staff helped her succeed in moments that she struggled. “The administrative staff advocates for students. If you want the education they will bend over backwards to make it happen for you and I don’t think that’s something that would have necessarily happened at a larger school,” Andrea said.
While attending CCV-St. Johnsbury, Andrea explored arts-related resources in the community, which is how she found Catamount Arts. Catamount Arts is a full-service arts center in northeast Vermont that allowed Andrea to enrich what she was learning at CCV by visiting the gallery, studying local artists, and attending arts events. After her graduation from CCV in 2016, Andrea was contacted by the organization and offered a job in the box office. Today, Andrea is still at Catamount Arts as the community liaison, where she wears various hats in coordinating public art projects and performances, working with a music program for kids, curating a film series, and more. “The work is very diverse,” she says of her job. “I get to learn about different things every day pertaining to what’s happening in the world, particularly in the arts and our culture.”
She says that CCV helped prepare her for this position by building up her basic computer and writing skills, and providing the platform to practice working with others, having conversations, and conducting meetings. “These are all lessons I got to learn really well at CCV,” she said. “You don’t have to go to a really expensive university to gain those skills and I think if you want to stay in the area and invest in a local community, CCV will give you such a great foundation.”
CCV was an important part of Andrea’s path to connecting her passion with the arts to a career, and she plans to continue being involved in the arts for the foreseeable future, both in her work and personal life. “Being able to share wonder and delight with people by being able to put on an incredible concert or show an amazing film or an opera…being able to share that with the community and see how it moves and speaks to people and changes people…that’s what I love.”