Volunteering in Philadelphia: Katie Skeen AB'91 AM'02 PhD'03

Communications Chair: Our fourth featured volunteer is Katie Skeen AB'91 AM'02 PhD'03

What's your U of C story?

I spent 16 years at Chicago, so it's a long story! I did my four years in the College and loved it. (My Hale House friends and I created the "Hell Does Freeze Over" shirt.) A few years after graduation I came back for the PhD program in English. In contrast to my college days, in grad school I attended every class and read every assigned page. It was amazing to be among smart, funny people throughout those years. I also taught classes, some on Irish literature, some in the Core, some for the MAPH program.

Why did you choose Chicago?

Ted O'Neill (who was then not even Dean of Admissions but just the New York rep) was very persuasive. So was my guidance counselor, whose son had attended Chicago and loved it. And the Midwest seemed exotic and novel to me, a lifelong Manhattanite.

What are your favorite memories of Chicago?

I think I'm beyond prosecution at this point so I'm going to confess I have great memories of running through the steam tunnels, etc., and, basically, trying to get away with as much as I could and be living proof that U of C students do indeed know how to have a good time. Most of my professors also made a deep impact on me, shaking me out of my comfort zone and making me realize that not every kind of intellectual work was going to come easy, nor should it.



What's your favorite UChicago hangout?

The Point by day, and Jimmy's by night. Though occasionally those were reversed.



What was the best book you read for a course?

I signed up for a course called "Gulliver's Travels," thinking, "Yay! We'll be reading just one book for the whole quarter." Needless to say, it did not work out that way. And I spent most of my time in graduate school thinking and rethinking the contexts surrounding Jonathan Swift and that book, a process that ultimately became my dissertation, "Irish Writing in English: 1720-1760." I've also taught the book to undergraduates. It's one of the greatest books of all time, and everyone should read it. You can go ahead and skip the Lilliput part if you're in a hurry.



How do you keep involved with the university?

I left Hyde Park for Philadelphia in 2006. In 2009 I began attending alumni club events and started getting more involved by organizing a couple of low-key, family-friendly events. In August of 2011 I became President. I have recently stepped down from that role and will stay involved as Communications Chair, writing and editing for the website, among other tasks. I've attended Volunteer Caucus twice. I also do some interviewing for the Alumni Schools Committee.



What has surprised you the most about Philly? Any favorite things to do/favorite hangouts?

I studied the eighteenth century, so of course I love turning a corner and coming upon an entire block of eighteenth-century buildings. And those Girard Avenue trolleys . . . In San Francisco, they're a big tourist thing. Here, they're public transportation. I also love the Philadelphia accent. Why, oh why, is it ignored in movies and on TV??

The Academy of Natural Sciences and the Barnes Foundation are favorite spots. The Rosenbach Museum and Bartram's Garden are less well known but hold treasures. Other things I like are: walking along the Wissahickon on Forbidden Drive or catching Irish music on a Saturday afternoon at Fergie's Pub.

What's been your favorite UChicago Alumni in Philly event?

Quizzo nights are fun because we get to be nerdy and competitive (against other teams) and get to know each other at the same time.