NEW RICHMOND, Wis. -- Katey Eickhoff doesn’t play the cello.
But the day New Richmond High School closed in accordance with Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order, the senior checked out a cello from the school’s orchestra so she could learn to play a new instrument while stuck at home.
“She has spent time each day learning,” her mom, Julie, reported. “And it's amazing how good she sounds.”
Eickhoff has never been afraid to try something new. It’s why she’s a classically trained pianist, plays French horn in the jazz band, was a team captain and state qualifier in tennis, a three-year science olympiad captain, a student-to-student mentor, and a community volunteer who will be heading to Columbia University in New York to study neuroscience and linguistics.
She said once she decides to try something, she goes all in.
“I think what’s really important with all the activities I’ve been involved with is, I’ve been really passionate about them,” she said. “I never would have realized that if I hadn’t been open-minded and tried so many different things. So I think it’s really important that even if you don’t think you’re going to like something, to branch out and try it once. Because you never know what will happen.”
A perfect example of that line of thinking is when she decided to join the New Richmond jazz band her junior year.
“I was really nervous because I had never read jazz music, and improvisation was never something I was very good at,” she said. “But I found it was a completely different way for me to express myself through music. And not only that, but to collaborate with different musicians and listen to their improvisations. I really enjoy it now and it’s been one of my favorite activities, even though it’s something I’ve only done my last two years in high school.”
Eickhoff started making an impact at New Richmond right away as a freshman by developing a project for elementary school students to read to senior citizens at The Deerfield assisted living facility. She was a member of New Richmond’s Academic Decathlon team that went to state the last three years, earning a Top Scholar award in the process, and is a member of New Richmond’s Student Leadership Team.
Freshman year is also when, after playing libero on her middle school and Junior Olympic volleyball teams, she decided she wanted to play tennis in high school. And as usual she went all in, helping the Tigers win four straight Middle Border Conference championships and qualifying for state as a senior with doubles partner Teresa Tenner.
Eickhoff described her involvement in tennis as “amazing,” and said her teammates have become her closest friends. She said the mental toughness needed to compete in the sport was also a huge character builder for her.
“I think it allowed me to get a lot of control over stress,” she said. “There are times you can be down 40-love and you can come back from that. I think it really allowed me to get a greater control of myself mentally and realize that there’s nothing you can’t come back from. And there may be obstacles in your way but there’s ways to overcome them and you have to believe in yourself to get there. I think that’s one of the biggest things that tennis taught me: that there’s a lot of mental control that you can apply to other aspects of your life.”
Eickhoff’s diverse activities also helped outline the path she sees for her future. She was attending a science olympiad at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls her junior year when she heard UWRF biology professor Tim Lyden speaking about research he was conducting and decided she wanted in.
“I went up after the test and talked to him about his research and it turns out that he is very good friends with my anatomy teacher at the high school, Jeff Albarado,” she said. “And through that connection, I was able to set up a summer opportunity and get some really great research experience there.”
Eickhoff said she just wanted to be in a lab, and would have been content washing beakers or mopping the floor.
“But the more I went in there, I was switching plates and I was photographing and bringing him research papers that I found interesting,” she said. “And it was really amazing, as a high schooler, to have that experience and be given the same respect as a student attending the university.”
While Lyden’s research centered on melanoma, Eickhoff said she has been interested in neuroscience since she was in middle school. But working with Lyden made her realize a lab environment was an environment she was comfortable in.
“I could still get an understanding of how the scientific process comes into play when you’re doing an experiment and how all these different resources come together into one greater collaborative project,” she said. “I think that made me realize that research was going to play a huge role in my future.”
She credits her educational experience at New Richmond with helping to shape that future.
“I’m really fortunate that New Richmond offers a wide variety of classes so I think I’ve been able to explore a lot of things before realizing that science was what I really wanted to go into,” she said.
And despite being unable to visit Columbia University due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eickhoff said she is excited about attending the prestigious Ivy League school, and will bring the same level of curiosity and enthusiasm that helped her excel in high school to her college life.
“I’ve never been to New York so I’m a little nervous,” she admitted. “But I think there’s going to be a lot for me to explore. It’s a new adventure.”