Katharina Pierini

Kresge '21, linguistics

Katharina Pierini (Kresge '21, linguistics)
Katharina Pierini (Kresge '21, linguistics)

Katharina Pierini has a side-job taking close-up, dramatic photos of flying eagles, mountain lions sauntering toward the camera, and foxes sneaking through meadows.

One of her stunning videos shows a puma walking along a coastal trail with two eager cubs. Setting up her trail cameras and taking these pictures requires patience, perseverance, focus, hard work, and striving to achieve an elusive goal. 

Those same qualities served Pierini well on her long backpacking trips. They also helped her hold the course during her steep, epic hike toward a UC Santa Cruz diploma, an educational path she completed in spite of a 27-year-long delay and a devastating wildfire that turned a lifetime's worth of belongings into ash. 

Pierini entered UC Santa Cruz as a transfer student from Cabrillo College in 1994 and delved into linguistics, but she had to withdraw later that year because she had to tend to pressing family matters. 

After leaving the campus, she returned to Cabrillo to get her associate’s degree in horticulture, and found work as a gardener at UC Santa Cruz. But unfinished goals were never far from her mind. 

Over the years she stayed in touch with Linguistics Professor James McCloskey (now emeritus). 

"He told me, ‘You need to finish. You’re good.' I thought, ‘Well, I was good,' but I started to have my doubts. Did I miss my chance? I could have been a contender!” said Pierini with a laugh, quoting the famous Marlon Brando line from the 1954 movie On the Waterfront.

Starting 12 years ago, she worked as a groundskeeper at Kresge College. But her husband and daughter—“my biggest fans"—kept encouraging her to re-enroll at UC Santa Cruz. In 2019, she took the big leap, returning to the classroom to finish her degree. 

At first she was so intimidated, she audited her linguistics classes, but she soon found her footing as a returning student. All those years away from school, and all her life experience, gave her renewed focus and direction. 

“I absolutely loved it," she said. 

As she grew closer to her goal, life had another unwelcome surprise for her. The devastating CZU August Lightning Complex fires of 2020 destroyed her family home, forcing her to move from Davenport to another location up the coast. Still, she pressed on with her work. Now that it’s all coming to a conclusion, her emotions are mixed. 

“It’s good to finish what I started,’’ she said. “On the other hand, I loved working on problems with other students, going to the library, figuring things out on the blackboard, talking to my professors, and always having a goal ahead of me. I already miss it.”