Forget Santa. At three years old, Katherine Watson was more interested in the Salvation Army bell ringers.

The Alverno student smiles as she recalls asking her mother if they, too, could ring the bell seeking charitable donations during the holiday season. Watson’s mother said yes, kicking off a 12-year run by the side of those iconic red kettles.

That was just the start for the now-19-year-old Watson, who completed her first year at Alverno.

Her extensive volunteer work has encompassed a range of activities, from tutoring to the St. Ben’s Community Meal program in Milwaukee.

Alverno took notice of her service and future leadership potential, with faculty from the Center for Academic Excellence and other programs joining forces to successfully nominate her to become a 2017 Newman Civic Fellow.

“Katherine rose to the top because of her academic performance, her community service and her goals around community leadership,” says Jodi Eastberg, professor of History.

The fellowship, awarded by nonprofit Campus Compact, aims to equip Watson and 272 other students with the tools they need to effect social change. During the 2017-18 school year, fellows will participate in online training sessions and will connect with peers, including at a national conference in Boston. Watson says she’s looking forward to developing community organizing skills to help her achieve her career goal of working for a nonprofit.

First, however, Watson can put those skills to work at Alverno.

“We are particularly excited because Ms. Watson will be a resource to our campus community in the years to come,” Sister Andrea wrote in her nomination letter.

Watson works in Campus Ministry and is part of the Doherty Scholars learning community. In the new school year, she will serve as vice president of the group Coexist, which is dedicated to learning more about different religions and promoting religious tolerance.

“Understanding of different religious traditions is something that will be really beneficial,” she says.

The skill development focus of the Newman Civic Fellowship aligns with Alverno’s groundbreaking assessment model and its emphasis on the Eight Abilities — qualities that drew Watson to Alverno in the first place.

In fact, so sure was the Waunakee, Wis., native of her choice that Alverno was the only school to which she applied.

“It’s all about improving yourself. People are here to help you with that,” she says.