Dragonfly staff and clients know Scottie Kersta-Wilson for her talents as a medical writer and editor. But there’s a whole other side to Scottie. Actually, there are several. Make that many.
Scottie grew up an Army brat. She spent most of her formative years in Houston, but she also has fond memories of the American school she attended in Germany and riding her first bike up and down the streets of expansive Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Sadly, her father was killed in action in Vietnam when Scottie was 14, leaving her mom to raise five children on her own.
It was around this time that Scottie planted a simple seed for a lifetime of learning and success with a typing class she took during ninth-grade summer school. “My grandfather said he was so proud of me because learning how to type meant that I could grow up and be an executive secretary for an insurance professional like him,” she said. But Scottie wanted more. She later put those skills to use as a typist for law firms in Houston, working odd shifts between classes and other commitments. “I’m one of those people that when I had to pick a major it was what I had the most hours in,” she laughed. “So my undergraduate degree is in sociology from the University of Houston.”
Degree in hand, she took a job as a resident advisor at a facility for mentally disabled adults, arranging activities for the residents and teaching them life skills. She continued taking classes, typing all the while to pay her way. “I ended up with a total of eight majors when all was said and done,” she said. “I kept going back to school to learn more stuff because I got bored with what I was doing.”
Making it all compute
While working for the Greater Houston Hospital Council, Scottie started learning about and working with computers. “I started with the 10-key keypunch there and went on to the first mag card and then IBM System/34 and 36, which were the size of my living room, and then the first PC, which of course was not portable at all — you dragged it around in a cart.”
She eventually moved to Chicago, again typing for law firms — and even singing and playing guitar on the side — as she earned an MFA in photography from the University of Illinois at Chicago. One of her co-workers at a law firm inspired her to expand her computer skills. “One of the women that had been a legal secretary there branched into training legal secretaries on WordPerfect and whatever the word processing du jour was,” Scottie recalled. She followed suit, learning SAP, PeopleSoft, and Oracle while working for a small consulting firm. She then convinced the firm that, if they paid for her to earn a certificate in medical writing and editing, they would then be able to pursue electronic medical records clients, because demand for that was beginning to rise.
From there she worked for a small environmental consulting company that did a lot of work with children’s health, but eight years ago, after all those years of working for others, Scottie decided the time was right to start freelancing exclusively. She had done work for Xcenda, where her youngest sister works. When she asked if the company was still using contractors, her sister replied, “No, we use this company called Dragonfly. Why don’t you reach out to them?” She took her sister’s advice and in September 2016 started contracting for Dragonfly, giving her a front-row seat and an important role I the company’s expanding work in the medical field.
Scottie’s found it to be a good fit. Besides the friendly co-workers — “Everyone I work with is always happy,” she said — she enjoys the support she gets from President Samantha Enslen and Editorial Manager Margaret Walker when it comes to dealing with clients, as well as the autonomy she’s given once projects are underway. She jokes that her favorite type of assignment is “the one where they give me a month to finish it,” but then pointed to two recent tasks — writing a needs analysis for continuing medical education courses and rewriting patient-facing materials to make them easier to understand — as favorite assignments.
What free time?
As a freelancer, Scottie knows it’s important to leave some time for herself. “If I’m not careful, I work seven days a week,” she said. A flexible schedule is also important because there are a lot of other interests on her plate, much of it related to the military thread so inextricably woven into her life.
Though she’s had to scale down marathon running to marathon walking — “I used to run them, but I can’t run anymore, so I walk them very fast,” she explained — every spring she and her husband head to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March, a marathon over difficult terrain that honors the men who survived the Bataan Death March in the Philippines during World War II. Scottie’s grandfather was among them. “That’s a marathon up and down a mountain in gravel and sand pits. Yeah, that one’s pretty harsh.”
She’s also made it a point to get to special Veterans Day ceremonies held every five years in Washington, D.C. “They have a ceremony where they read all 58,000-plus names on the wall,” she explained. “So all over the mall all you hear are the sound of names being read over these microphones. And it’s just the most amazing thing, and it goes on almost 24/7 for five days. I love going there.”
Scottie even traveled to Vietnam in 2014. As a member of an organization called Sons and Daughters In Touch – a national support organization committed to uniting the children of servicemen whose names are on the wall — she knew plenty of people who had taken a similar trip and shared the experience, but she also knew each experience is unique. “I knew I wanted to find the airfield where my father’s helicopter took off, and other than that, my husband and I just wanted to go from north to south,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect, because you have this idea that the soldiers who fought there were heroes and they went because their government said XYZ was happening, and in the ensuing years you find out that all of that was wrong. I just found this fantastic place that I would love to go back to — I’d love to live there — of people who fought for the same reason: because their government told them this was happening.”
Needless to say, her travel photography is a bit beyond the “say cheese” snapshots taken at well-known tourist attractions. OK, they’re way beyond. As she travels, Scottie takes photos and makes collages of the unintended consequences of war. “It seems strange, but there’s some really beautiful unintended consequences, like the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Because no one was there for years and years, it was able to flourish and grow and be really beautiful,” she said. “Vietnam, where my dad was killed, was just bombed into obliteration. But now it’s this beautiful, loving, friendly place.”
Her photos also don’t end up in albums or frames on the wall. Scottie takes her pictures of former battlefields and war-torn sites and turns them into silk scarves (check them out at imagediary.com). Her work was recently accepted into Chicago’s One of a Kind Show, a juried holiday event featuring the work of 600 artists and craftspeople. “I’m pretty excited. It’s kind of like one of those things where five years ago I never would have dreamed that I could have gotten in,” she said.
Nothin’ but Netflix
As for life at home, Scottie lives in Chicago with her husband Curt, a composer, musical theater writer, and “marketing guy.” The couple, a Match.com success story, have two cats: Tex, whom Scottie describes as “the longest, skinniest orange cat you have ever seen,” and JC, a fat gray and white kitty who is everyone’s friend “because they might have food for him.”
An ideal evening for them consists of popcorn, chocolate, and Netflix — recent favorites include “Rake,” the “Marvel” shows, and “Patriot.” If left to her own devices, though, there’s nothing Scottie enjoys more than a good Scandinavian murder mystery, complete with subtitles. “Oh my God, they’re fabulous,” she said. “There’s the Norwegian, the Swedish, the Icelandic. You’d think I would be able to speak a Scandinavian language by now, but I cannot.”
It’s all a far cry from the teenager who learned to type one summer, then combined that simple skill with curiosity, ambition, and persistence to fashion a successful career. Turns out, her grandfather was right all along.
This post was written by Kathryn Flynn, an editor at Dragonfly Editorial.