Student Spotlight: Natalie Sticha

Natalie Sticha
Natalie Sticha

Child Life Assistant major pursuing healthcare career centered on helping children

When she was born, Natalie Sticha, 20, was diagnosed with a neurological condition called hydrocephalus, which is the “buildup of fluid in the cavities (ventricles) deep within the brain. The excess fluid increases the size of the ventricles and puts pressure on the brain.” ¹ Newborn Natalie underwent three brain surgeries and spent three and a half months in the hospital before her parents could bring her home on Christmas Eve.

Today, Natalie is a sophomore earning her Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in the Child Life Assistant program at Dakota County Technical College. She made the Dean’s List in her first three semesters at DCTC and is on track to graduate in spring 2020.

“Hydrocephalus is treated with a shunt,” Natalie related. “Shunts often fail, leading to brain surgery. My shunt needed to be replaced in the summer of 2016. Unfortunately, when that happened, I needed brain surgery.”

Natalie spent 24 hours in the hospital and took a week to recover. Pain due to scar tissue from the operation was quite intense. She named her new shunt Dozier after Brian Dozier, the former Minnesota Twins second baseman.

Natalie’s condition presents challenges for her academically. “It takes me a little longer to process things,” she said. “My instructors have been very understanding and helpful.”

A 2017 graduate of Prior Lake High School, Natalie works while going to school as an assistant teacher at Little Lakers Montessori in Prior Lake—she’s an alumna, having gone to Little Lakers as a preschooler. Natalie’s transfer plans have her choosing between two Christian four-years in Minnesota, Bethel University or the University of Northwestern.

One word that describes your experience at DCTC:

Dawn Braa, early childhood and youth development faculty at DCTC, considers Natalie a great student with a bright future.

“Natalie may be on the quieter side, but she has a good attitude,” Dawn said. “We had an opportunity this fall for her to step outside the box and serve students at Hastings High School. This was a new partnership for us. Natalie jumped right in and has been a leader there. We’re proud of her achievements!”

Dawn added that Natalie is a good example of a student who knows she wants to work with children and families, but not necessarily as a teacher. Child life specialists are a vital resource for kids and their family members in healthcare-related situations. “Our ECYD program offers pathways for students with a variety of interests.”

More about the Child Life Assistant A.A.S. degree

The Child Life Assistant program delivers the knowledge and skills you need to work with children in hospital settings or with healthcare needs. Child life specialists are part of the team responsible for supporting children and families through healthcare experiences and helping them effectively cope by using developmental play and normalized activities in their environment. This program is available in the classroom and most courses are also available online. Learn more…

Natalie Sticha | Q & A

Natalie Sticha

Natalie Sticha

Why did you choose child healthcare as your career field?
I want to become a child life specialist because they have helped my family so much. My two older brothers were 3 and 5 years old when I was born and didn’t understand what was going on with me. The child life specialists took the time to explain what was going on. That really reassured my parents, and I want to have that same feeling with families.

What do you like best about attending DCTC?
My favorite part about attending DCTC is that everyone is so kind and welcoming.

What is your favorite part of the Child Life Assistant program?
My favorite part of the Child Life Assistant program is learning all new information about child life. I love all things medical and I’m really good with kids so this is the perfect career for me!

Three words that describe you as a college student:

What is one thing every technical college student should know?
College is hard, but you have to keep going no matter how hard it is.

What has been your toughest challenge in life?
Getting through brain surgery.

What is your greatest accomplishment so far?
Making the Dean’s List three semesters in a row.

What person(s) has influenced you the most in life?
My parents. Without them, I don’t know where I’d be.

“I love all things medical and I’m really good with kids so this is the perfect career for me!”
— Natalie Sticha, Child Life Assistant Major, Dakota County Technical College

More about Natalie…

Natalie’s dad, Tom, is a chiropractor; her mom, Sue, is an account manager at Collins Aerospace. Natalie’s brother, Thomas, 22, graduated with a business degree from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He works at Timberwolf Lake, a YoungLife camp in Lake City, Michigan. YoungLife is a nondenominational Christian organization.

Her brother, Chris, 24, is a landscape architect at Damon Farber. Chris is married and his wife, Annalise, works at UCare. Chris and Annalise have a mini-goldendoodle named Bogey.

“Bogey is the cutest dog ever,” Natalie said. “Chris and Annalise think Bogey is their dog, but he’s actually mine.”

When she’s not in class, studying or working at her Montessori school, Natalie enjoys listening to music, volunteering at her church’s nursery and coloring.

Natalie Sticha gallery

Photo captions…

Speaking at Hydro event

I was chosen to be the ambassador for the Twin Cities WALK to End Hydrocephalus. I spoke in front of 600 people sharing my story. I was very nervous, but I felt good knowing I inspired people with my story of hope.

Christmas 2017

This is a picture of my two brothers, sister-in-law and me at my cousin’s wedding in Chicago last year.


This is Bogey. He is a 1-year-old mini-goldendoodle. He belongs to my brother and sister-in-law [not really] and the sweetest dog ever.

Senior photo

I felt like it was important to share a senior picture because doctors told my parents when I was born that I wouldn’t survive the night and if I did, I would have severe disabilities, such as not being able to walk, talk or even go to school. I’m walking, talking and just finished my first semester of my sophomore year! I say that’s incredible! You would never know what I’ve been through unless I told you.

Picture of me holding a cross

This is a picture of me holding a cross. My Christian faith is very important to me. It has gotten me through so much. I want to share my favorite Bible verse.

It’s Matthew 17:20: “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Natalie Sticha | 21 Answers

  1. Favorite season: Fall
  2. Favorite natural feature (e.g., waterfalls, oceans, mountains, etc.): Pacific Ocean
  3. Most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Spoke in front of 600 people at hydrocephalus networking event
  4. Your national bird if you could have one: Eastern bluebird
  5. Place you would most like to visit: Sea of Galilee in Israel
  6. Favorite holiday: Christmas
  7. Your national mammal if you could have one: Dolphin
  8. Favorite actor or actress: Kevin Hart
  9. Favorite band or performing artist: Hillsong Worship
  10. Your personal motto if you had to have one: “Be brave.”
  11. Coolest thing in the world: Sunsets
  12. Scariest thing in the world:  Heights
  13. Favorite all-time TV show: Stranger Things
  14. Favorite all-time movie: Jumanji (2017)
  15. One thing you most want to accomplish in life: Get married and have a family
  16. Most valuable material possession: My iPhone 7+ 🙂
  17. What would you do if you won the $1.5 billion Powerball: Donate half to charity; have fun with the rest
  18. Dream occupation: Child life specialist
  19. Person you would most like to meet: Kevin Hart
  20. Skill you would most like to learn and master: American Sign Language
  21. Humankind’s greatest challenge: Famine
Learn more about Child Life Assistant program at DCTC by contacting:

Dawn Braa
Early Childhood and Youth Development Faculty

Sharon Bergen
Early Childhood and Youth Development Faculty

¹ Courtesy of the Mayo Clinic