Katerina ISTOMIN '03, Musician & Counselor

A professional violist who has played with orchestras all over the world, Katerina ISTOMIN '03 is in the midst of shifting her career path from music to psychology as she pursues her Doctorate of Counseling Psychology at Carlow University. A graduate of the Juilliard School, Katerina has worked as a fellow with the Music Advancement and Gluck Community Service programs at the Juilliard School and as a teaching artist in Medellin, Colombia, with the New World Symphony. With a passionate belief that music and psychology are interlinked, Katerina calls upon her past experiences to better understand human behavior and motivate her in her new journey of becoming a licensed psychologist. Dedicated to holistic wellness on and off the stage, Katerina shares more about switching her professional focus, her all-girls education, and the influence Ellis had on her after graduation.
Years at Ellis:Grade 3 to Grade 12
Occupation:Doctoral Candidate, Musician, Counselor
Education:B.M., Juilliard School; M.M., University of Montreal, Hochschulle for Music and Drama in Vienna; M.S. Professional Counseling, Carlow University

You are a violist who has performed with the Juilliard Orchestra and the New World Symphony. How did you get started with the viola and what motivated you to pursue it professionally?
I come from a musical family so the option to play an instrument was always available. Initially, I chose to learn the piano and also played the violin while at The Ellis School. It wasn’t until the tenth grade that I picked up the viola because I wanted to go on tour with the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony. During that trip, it occurred to me that music could be a way to navigate through the world, both professionally and interpersonally. Through and with my instrument, I began to find like-minded individuals, inspiring teachers, and successall of which were immensely motivating. To be honest, I never thought about being a professional musician until my senior year at Ellis, which, many would say was too late to seriously start considering a career in music. During that year, I devoted all of my time and energy to the viola and was ultimately accepted into The Juilliard School, which became the springboard for a successful music career.  

You are now working towards your doctorate degree in counseling psychology, why did you switch gears in your career path and how did you go about doing so?
After playing with the New World Symphony for over three years, I realized that I wanted to do more than winning a job in an orchestra could provide. I have always been fascinated by the mind-brain connection and human behavior so it felt natural to look for programs in Psychology. Carlow University appreciated my diverse background and saw it both as an asset and a testament to my overall abilities. After graduating from their M.S. in Counseling program, I moved to Europe to play in the Malta Symphony Orchestra for about six months. After coming back to Pittsburgh, I was offered a job in the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center of the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic where I worked for one year. This was an invaluable experience but it became clear that I would need a Doctorate degree for the type of work I’d like to do, so I decided to pursue a Doctorate of Counseling Psychology at Carlow.  

What advice do you have for girls who may be interested in multiple majors and/or career paths that don’t necessarily overlap?
Ultimately, I think that it is about tapping into what makes you uniquely you and then figuring out how you can express that in your career. Everything that you do, even if it’s off the beaten path, can inform and add to your chosen career path. In short, the linear path isn’t always the best one. You are an evolving human being with multiple talents and abilities. Direct your dedication and effort to what is meaningful for you and approach change head on!

How does your musical background influence your perspective as a soon-to-be psychologist?
For me, both music and psychology are about communication and helping people experience and express emotions that may have been previously inaccessible and inexpressible. A concert hall and a therapist’s office are both places that people can choose to frequent, or not, depending on their current needs. Both environments exist as places for welcomed and unique experiences, often times ones of respite and relief. Practically speaking, music has taught me the value of hard work and self-motivation, both of which I have found necessary in my work towards becoming a licensed psychologist.  

Name an instance or time in your life when you have been brave and bold.
I feel like I’ve been brave and bold every time I choose to not allow fear to stop me from doing what I want to do. I’ve been lucky enough to live and play all over the world, study with amazing teachers, meet a vast array of people, and now shift career paths to further my commitment to others. Each step of the way has brought excitement and terror, but I never let it stop me because if what I do can help, inspire, change, or bring a smile to even one person, then it’s all been worth it.  
How did your Ellis education influence and guide you after graduation?
I think that my staunch belief in equality and advocacy began to take shape during my time at Ellis. Injustice is all around us, every day, all the time, whether or not we choose to see it or accept it. Being an Ellis girl, I learned critical thinking skills and how to take ideas and turn them into actions that can make a difference. I also learned that I am capable of anything and, although confidence can be hard to maintain, knowing your goals and what is important to you are which I learned at Ellis that I build on every day.

What do you think are the advantages of having gone to school in an all-girls environment?
Although it was challenging at times, I think that an all-girls environment simply levels the playing field and lets girls be themselves. Within that, we are thus provided the space to learn and grow at our own pace. Free from many of the distractions and socialized norms of coed education, the Ellis classroom keeps the focus on the female, collective, us; our strengths and areas of growth, our best interest, and our potential. I think Beyonce said it best; “Who run the world? Girls.”

What is your best memory of Ellis?
I have a lot of fond memories from Ellis but I have to say one of my favorites is commencement. There was a feeling of excitement and accomplishment in the air that hadn’t really actualized until that day. I remember lining up to walk through the lawn feeling like now I could do anything. Being an Ellis girl isn’t always easy, but rest assured that it does prepare you for the world in ways that few other schools can.  
How do you spend your free time?
Free time is a precious commodity for me these days! I have a one-year-old, 100 lb., Great Dane named Ziggy who loves long walks and playing outside. I also teach and practice yoga and am developing a holistic learning module that addresses self-doubt and self-knowledge for musicians. I love to travel and try new restaurants with my partner, James, and his two kids.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Driven. Stubborn. Compassionate.

What is the last book you read?
The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould.