Natalie Kirchhoff - 2005

“As you journey through life, remember to focus on the learning and not just getting the grade,” says CIS alumna Natalie Kirchhoff. “My lowest grade at CIS was in AP Calculus. I got a C+. I struggled in that class and was forced to really learn the material. Fast forward to Rice University, known for its strong math and sciences, where I got an A+ in Calculus and found myself tutoring other classmates!”

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Natalie attended CIS in eleventh and twelfth grade and graduated in 2005.  Following high school graduation, Natalie headed to Houston, Texas, to attend Rice University. She studied Sport Management and Business while also competing as a swimmer for the Rice Owls. It took a lot of focus and energy to juggle academic and athletic responsibilities, but she learned a lot through the process.

Natalie’s career has been eclectic and anything but boring! Since graduating from CIS, she has lived in five different states and two countries. She has worked for Fortune 100 companies and also for small start-ups specializing in general and project management. After graduating from Rice, she worked for The Walt Disney Company for three years. The neatest project she worked on was the building of the Hawaii resort — Disney’s first destination resort. She has also had the opportunity to work in Luxembourg in several roles.

In addition, Natalie pursued a career as a professional triathlete. She had the opportunity to train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and won the USA National Championship in 2011 as an amateur before debuting as a professional. Natalie retired from the sport in 2013.

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Natalie cherishes her two years at CIS. The faculty, staff and students encouraged her to grow, develop intellectual curiosity and be herself. The guided yet independent learning style at CIS helped prepare her for college. It taught her how to learn, manage her time, and seek help when she needed it.

Natalie has some advice for current CIS students. “And remember, life is what you make of it — so is your education. I have friends that went to well known private universities, but didn’t study and took it for granted. I also have friends who put themselves through community college and are thriving in business. Wherever you go and whatever you end up doing, take full advantage of each opportunity you are given and make the most of it!”


Gregory Blair - 2005

 Dante (the Blairs’ dog), Gregory, and Kathryn

Dante (the Blairs’ dog), Gregory, and Kathryn

“CIS taught me how to figure out what I liked to learn about and pushed me to create and achieve goals around those interests,” says Columbia Independent School alumnus Gregory Blair. “I gravitated towards genetics, biology and chemistry, which led me to eventually pursue medicine. My teachers always challenged me to ask "why?" As a result of that, after my time at CIS, I was a sufficient self-directed learner - a trait which allowed me to do well in undergrad, medical school, and continues to serve me as a physician.”

Gregory attended CIS from 6th to 12th grade and graduated in 2005. Following his graduation, Gregory attended Northwestern University and earned his bachelor’s degree in Communication Science and Disorders. After his undergrad, he enrolled in the University of Missouri School of Medicine and earned his M.D.

 Gregory posing in his work uniform

Gregory posing in his work uniform

After medical school, Gregory completed an anesthesiology residency and served as chief resident at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, WA. He is now a board-certified anesthesiologist. He spent a year at Stanford University for a Critical Care Anesthesiology fellowship and is currently at Oregon Health and Science University for a second fellowship in Adult Cardiothoracic Anesthesiology. He will finish subspecialty training in July 2019 and is currently looking for his "real" job - a combination of general anesthesiology, cardiothoracic anesthesiology and intensivist work in a critical care unit.

Gregory and his wife Kathryn currently live in Portland, OR with their dog, Dante. When he is not in the hospital, you can often find him outdoors with Kathryn and Dante, hiking and camping around the Pacific Northwest, scuba diving, skiing, or traveling internationally. Gregory and his wife love cooking and enjoying the food scene in Portland. He hopes with the end of his medical training to get back into music, theater, and tennis.

 Gregory and his wife, Kathryn, at Stonehenge

Gregory and his wife, Kathryn, at Stonehenge

Gregory has some advice for current CIS students. “Take advantage of the opportunities you have at CIS. You're at CIS because someone cares about your future and education. You'll be hard-pressed to find another place and time in your life where you have such a great teacher to student ratio filled with people who want you to succeed and to learn how to learn. Try a little bit of everything and focus on what makes you excited and curious. Also, stay in touch with your classmates, especially after graduation! Among my closest and longest-term friendships are several I made at CIS.”


Cody Maly - 2014

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Never playing soccer before didn’t stop CIS alumnus Cody Maly from being a member of the CIS soccer team. “My favorite thing was probably the soccer team with Mr. B and Coach Curtis. I had never played before but I had a blast learning and kicking the ball as hard as I could,” Cody remembers.

Cody Maly attended CIS from 1st to 12th grade and graduated in 2014. Following high school graduation, Cody went to Stanford University and is currently in the senior year of his undergraduate career. He will receive his Bachelor of Science degree in Management Science and Engineering in June 2019. Following his graduation, Cody is considering a one-year masters program in Public Policy, or perhaps law school. Finance, sports management, and law are all careers he says he finds interesting and might pursue.

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Cody recalls that CIS really helped him with his academics to make sure he was getting all of the resources and feedback that he needed to succeed. Being in the smaller, more individualized environment motivated him to be more interactive and ask questions, and those habits carried over once he got to college. The smaller environment also promoted strong bonds with everyone around him, which helped him to realize the importance of creating those relationships in college and in adult life.

Cody has one piece of advice for current students. “I would say to work hard but most of all have fun with all of your classes, extracurriculars, and people around you.”

Katy Blake Burch-Hudson

 Katy’s sister (also CIS alumna), her father, and Katy at a USC football game.

Katy’s sister (also CIS alumna), her father, and Katy at a USC football game.

“CIS created the existence of a community that I carried with me in the future,” says CIS alumna Katy Blake Burch-Hudson. “I knew everyone at CIS and had a relationship with all of my peers and my teachers. When I went to college and in my adult life, I did my best to create relationships with my new peers, my new friends, my new teachers, and my new coworkers to emulate the close-knit community I had at CIS.”

Katy attended CIS from 6th to 12th grade and graduated in 2014. Following her graduation, Katy attended the University of Southern California. She majored in International Relations with a minor in Global Health. She worked internationally as an English teacher for children and university students - in Spain as an au pair and elementary school teacher from 2014-2015, and as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Brazil since February 2018.

 Katy and her Spanish family who she lived and worked with teaching English for a year in Madrid, Spain.

Katy and her Spanish family who she lived and worked with teaching English for a year in Madrid, Spain.

Katy has many fond memories of CIS. She loved being a part of student council and served as the organization’s president her senior year. The experience piqued an interest in event coordination that has stayed with her until now and has become part of her career goals. She also participated in basketball and cross country. The cross country team was especially meaningful because she ran with the boys team for a year until a girls team was created, and then she ran alone on the girls team until her senior year when more girls joined. Being a part of creating the team was very rewarding for her.

But a memory that stands out the most to Katy is Mr. Bricker's teaching style. She attempts to emulate it every time she is with her students. “He always demanded excellence from his students. He would shut the door on you if you were late and he would scold you for not having your grade sheet in order. At the same time, he taught in a way that you didn't realize you were learning but you remembered the lessons because they were dynamic and engaging. Even up to the test review, which was often a jeopardy game full of dramatic daily doubles.

 Katy and Rosalynn Carter at an event at the Carter Center.

Katy and Rosalynn Carter at an event at the Carter Center.


One lesson that stuck with Katy, who often finds herself in new cultures, was a lesson that Mr. Bricker taught called "Nacirema." Katy recalls, “The class read a passage about a bizarre culture that had seemingly outrageous rituals and habits. At the end of the passage, we were asked to spell the title of the passage backwards. Spelled backwards, it reads "American." I remember this lesson distinctly because I was indignant and stubborn that all of the things I thought of as normal could be construed in a way that made them seem bizarre. As I travel, living in other countries, things that seem so normal to me are bizarre to other people, and vice versa. That awareness has been so valuable in continuing to build community abroad.”

Katy has some advice for current CIS students. “Make friends with everyone, and every experience is what you make of it - you get out of it as much energy and good vibes as you put into it. And listen to your teachers, mentors, coaches, and parents, but make the decision that feels right for you.”

Emily Woods Harding - 2002

Did you know Columbia Independent School almost selected the frog as its mascot?

Emily (Woods) Harding, a member of the first graduating class of Columbia Independent School in 2002, recalls being part of the group that chose the school mascot. The final two candidates were the frog and the lion. Thanks to Emily and her classmates, we’re proud to call ourselves CIS Lions.

Emily attended CIS from 1998-2002 and went on to attend Princeton University. She pursued an undergraduate degree in History and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She spent eight years in management consulting, three years in human resources, and now is in her first year of market research.

 Emily and her husband, Dan, in Estonia.

Emily and her husband, Dan, in Estonia.

She has challenged the thinking of leaders at many of the world's biggest companies and improved the decisions they make. Looking back to her first big paper at CIS (on Jack the Ripper!), she is thankful for how dedicated her CIS teachers were to helping her improve her critical thinking skills. It was a "light bulb" moment, and just one example of the many times her classmates and teachers at CIS challenged her. Critical thinking seems like a fluffy skill, she says, but it truly has driven her academic and professional success.

Emily says she did so many fun things at CIS that it’s hard to remember all of them. “Cheerleading at CIS was a lot of fun, and it helped me go on to cheer at Princeton. A few weeks ago, after twenty years, I finally parted with my ragged 1998-1999 CIS cheerleading t-shirt that had all of our names on it.”

Emily has some advice for current CIS students. “In high school and college, learn as much as you can about yourself. What types of activities do you truly enjoy? What are you really good at? What careers are out there that might be right for you? What type of people make you feel the best about yourself?”

 Emily and her dog, Eli, snuggling on the couch!

Emily and her dog, Eli, snuggling on the couch!

After twelve years in DC, Emily moved to St. Louis last year with her husband, Dan. She spends most of her time playing with their puppy, Eli, exploring St. Louis, traveling to different parts of the world, and getting back into golf.

“My hundred other little memories generally come down to how tight-knit the community was. When we celebrated accomplishments, disagreed, faced uncertainty, or just hung out before class, we were all in it together.”