Meet Natalie Krivas, M.Ed., CPP

By Rebecca Koch

In the second year of her doctoral program, Natalie Krivas, M.Ed., CPP, is on a mission to create change in her community, in the nation, and in the world.

Krivas speaks as if she’s painting, with a waterfall of words and feelings tumbling out of her mouth, just days out of intensive wrist surgery that has required a month off work. For Krivas, this is one of the few times she’s had quiet and rest, coming at the tail end of an eventful year.

It took years of grit, of change, of international moves and hard work to get to where she is today. In the second year of her doctoral program, Krivas works full-time and volunteers often. She has presented at the Courage Summit, sharing deep, vulnerable experiences of loss in front of a live audience. The Northwest Indiana Influential Women Association awarded her the Up-and-Coming Business Leader award.

Krivas sees her time at Saybrook University as a kind of celebration of the life she has created for herself. With her education, there’s no stopping her from creating the greater change she imagines in her community, in the nation, and in the world. She’s ready.

A different kind of childhood

Originally from rural Nova Scotia, Canada, Krivas moved to suburban Pittsburgh at the age of 16. Raised in the Jehovah’s Witness faith, she began to question the hypocrisy of the religion she observed and eventually decided to leave the church. In leaving her home and her religion, she lost the community that she had always known.

“The questioning that I started to have when I was becoming a teenager got really intense,” Krivas explains. “Two weeks before I turned 18, I told my parents that I wanted to leave the religion and they kicked me out and disowned me. Within the span of a week, I had completely lost my community.”

She was homeless for a couple of months, staying with friends to fill in the gaps. Krivas started dating a guy with a 3-year-old and moved in with them. She learned he had a drug addiction and with the snap of a finger,she became a makeshift mom to the little girl. Twenty years later, she calls that five-year period the lowest point in her life. She remembers her boyfriend’s sister telling her, “Natalie, I love you, but what are you doing- you are ruining your life.”

She knew she had to make the most difficult decision of her life by leaving the unhealthy relationship – and the little girl – behind (spoiler: that little girl is now 24-years-old and still close to Natalie). After a serious medical scare though, she realized she didn’t want to be in the U.S. any longer. Three days after George W. Bush was reelected in 2004, she said her goodbyes and went back to Canada.

A return to Canada — and back stateside again

“I left relationships behind. My family wasn’t supportive of me moving, telling me I was running away from my problems. But it led me to education,” Krivas explains. “I was told my entire life that I was not intelligent, that my sister was the smart one, and I was the one with a big heart. I had zero confidence in my ability to go to university, but I decided to try.”

She enrolled at McGill University in Montreal where she studied teaching English as a second language.

“With teaching English as a second language, you need to develop your students and help them learn, but the subject content is very flexible,” Krivas says. “For me, I could keep to the book and do what was traditional, or I could teach them subject content that was meaningful and based on real-world issues or challenges. I chose the latter and that was a life-changing decision.”

After she graduated, she started to lay down deeper roots in Montreal. She started working as a teacher and met her future husband, who lived in the U.S. She got pregnant, and he moved to Canada to be with her. Tragedy struck before their wedding though, when their baby, Alice, passed away at only two days old in 2011. They continued with the wedding, but her husband wanted to move back to be closer to family. When they settled in Indiana, she enrolled at Valparaiso University for her master’s in humane education, graduating summa cum laude—for her future, for herself, and for her family.

“When we moved to Valparaiso, I felt driven to do everything in her honor. We wanted to do right by Alice and live our lives to the fullest,” Krivas says. A couple of years after Alice’s passing, she and her husband had another daughter, Ellie. It only drove them more: They had two people to do right by.

Embracing education

While still in school, Krivas started work at a nonprofit called Opportunity Enterprises, Inc.—working 60 to 70 hour weeks while completing her degree. She finished her master’s in 15 months.

“My job at Opportunity Enterprises was like a crash course immersion into this community that I had just become a part of,” Krivas says. “I eventually had to leave Opportunity Enterprises but when I left, I knew I would stay involved.”

Krivas is underselling the amount of commitments she’s beholden to. She currently sits on three different boards: Opportunity Enterprises, Inc., Valparaiso Creative Council, and Valpo Schools Foundation. For her, it’s the community connection that led her to enroll in her Ph.D. in Managing Organizational Systems at Saybrook—reminding her of the community she was surrounded by earlier in her life.

“McGill was a gathering place of so many different cultures and backgrounds … thought changers and rebels. That’s what I was looking for at the Ph.D. level, and that’s why I chose Saybrook,” Krivas says. “When you have professors teaching you social justice-based content, and when you’re able to teach something meaningful to students who then transform before your eyes … there’s an incredible value in that, and that is hard to overstate.”

And for her, she’s just getting started.

“I want to have a systemic effect on education in America. If my dream were to come true today, I would be teaching undergraduate education students,” Krivas says. “For me, it’s not just about gaining the self-esteem. It’s not just about gaining the doctor title. It’s about gaining the credentials that I believe can bring value to my life, to my work, and to the world. Every single course I’ve taken, every residency I’ve attended, every experience I’ve had at Saybrook, I have taken away real-life practical examples that I can further implement and share with students one day.”

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