Patently, happily Notre Dame

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Patent attorney and Notre Dame grad grateful for high school years.

Katie (Koterba) Pacynski graduated from Notre Dame in 2006. In the less-than-10 years since, a lot has happened in her life, including a few twists and turns along the way to becoming a successful patent attorney practicing in Pontiac. But she said the time she spent at Notre Dame was likely some of the most influential in her current career and life. 

A graduate of the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering and Michigan State University’s College of Law, Pacynski, who also was a member of U-M’s cheer team, said Notre Dame completely set her up for managing the very busy years in college, law school and now, in a very flourishing career.

“The College of Engineering at Michigan is, without a doubt, very challenging and very intense, so I’m grateful that I was so accustomed to a challenging course load, thanks to Notre Dame,” Pacynski said. “I took many Honors and AP classes while at ND, and having those difficult classes helped prepare me for the stresses and rigors of college courses.”  

Pacynski graduated cum laude from Michigan in 2010, with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree in chemical engineering. While at the University of Michigan, she was also a member of the varsity cheerleading team, cheering on the Wolverines for football and basketball and competing in national collegiate cheerleading championships. She then earned her Juris Doctor degree from MSU’s College of Law, graduating magna cum laude in May 2013. While there, she served as a managing editor of the Michigan State Law Review and was the recipient of Jurisprudence Achievement Awards for the highest achieving student in patent application preparation and intellectual property practicum courses.

After law school, Pacynski hired on with the Pontiac-based Dobrusin Law Firm as a law clerk and now works as an associate attorney with the firm. 

According to Dobrusin, her practice focuses on preparing and prosecuting patent applications in the U.S. and internationally for a variety of technologies, with a number of clients involved in the automotive industry. Pacynski also is a member of the Women’s Bar Association and the Michigan Intellectual Property Inn of Court.

Pacynski is married to Steve Pacynski, also an attorney (corporate law at Clark Hill), and the two recently bought a house in Farmington Hills. She noted that a fellow NDP alum, Jacqueline (Mikulec) Welsh (’06), was the matron of honor at her wedding. 

“I’m so grateful to have formed such a great friendship in my very first days at Notre Dame that has continued to grow over so many years,“ she said of her relationship with Welsh. 

Notre Dame’s alumni association contacted Pacynski last month for an update on her life, career and a remembrance of high school at Notre Dame Prep. She said she looks back at NDP not just with fond and fun memories, but with a healthy dose of gratitude for what it has meant to her career thus far.

On her college experience and how Notre Dame prepared her for it:

The University of Michigan College of Engineering is, without a doubt, very challenging and very intense, so I’m grateful that I was so accustomed to a challenging course load. I took many Honors and AP classes while at ND, and having those difficult classes helped prepare me for the stresses and rigors of college courses.  

During high school, I set a lot of goals for myself, and I had a tremendous support system with my family, friends, and the faculty at ND to help me accomplish those goals. I was surrounded by like-minded people, who were driven to succeed, and that helped to push me even more. When I got to college, I sought out those same types of people. I cultivated a lot of friendships based on mutual respect, similar values, shared stress, late nights at the library, and determination to help each other so we all succeeded, just like when I was at ND.

While at ND, I was also a member of the varsity sideline and competitive cheer teams, so I had to manage my time well and stay organized. I did my homework and studied anywhere I could. I remember countless afternoons sitting in the hallways of ND between school and cheer practice or games, finishing homework and preparing for tests.

Those same time-management skills were even more crucial while in college. I was a member of the varsity cheerleading team at Michigan, so I had the privilege of cheering on the Wolverines for football, basketball and many other events. I got to compete in national collegiate cheerleading competitions. It was a phenomenal experience to be a part of the team, but even with practices, workouts, games, traveling, and everything else associated with being a varsity athlete, I still had to make sure that my schoolwork was first priority. Thanks to the organizational skills I developed at ND, I was able to have both a challenging major and a rewarding extracurricular experience at U of M. 

Being a part of the cheerleading team at ND, and then U-M, also helped me to learn the importance of teamwork and appreciate the bonds formed between members. I also developed leadership skills that carried into undergrad, law school, and now my career. 

On how her career goals changed:

Following high school, I attended the University of Michigan, and I majored in chemical engineering. The summer after my sophomore year, I had an engineering internship out of state with a plastics manufacturer. I really enjoyed the experience, and I had accepted an offer to return for another rotation the following summer. Unfortunately, shortly after accepting my offer, the internship program fell victim to budget cuts, and I had to find a new plan. 

Still shaken from the loss of my internship, when registering for classes my junior year, on a whim (or perhaps divine intervention), I decided to take a one-credit elective called “Law for Engineers.” That decision ended up being life changing. I became so fascinated with how technology and law intersect, and I really started to contemplate a career in patent law. I spent part of that summer after junior year studying for and taking the LSAT and applying to law schools. 

After graduating with my BSE in chemical engineering, I went on to law school at Michigan State College of Law. I was blessed to have my boyfriend (now husband) attend with me. We are both competitive people, so we motivated each other, and we both earned good grades and landed great internships (that turned into full-time employment) as a result. We both made Law Review, and we were both on the Editorial Board our last year of law school. Our relationship also survived the stress of studying for (and passing) the Michigan Bar Exam! 

While in law school, I began working as a law clerk for a boutique intellectual property law firm, which is now the Dobrusin Law Firm, in Pontiac. From the very beginning, I had wonderful mentors at the firm, and the experience I gained in such a short time allowed me to pass the Patent Bar Exam while still in law school. (Patent attorneys have to pass both the Patent Bar Exam and a state Bar Exam.) 

Since graduating from law school, I have been working full time for Dobrusin. My practice focuses on preparing and prosecuting patent applications, filed in the U.S. and internationally, for a variety of technologies. Our clients run the gamut from individual inventors to Fortune 500 companies, with many of our clients involved in the automotive industry. Not only do I have the privilege of working with some brilliant mentors and amazing role models, but I also get to call them my good friends. I love what I do and where I work. 

On who and/or what has influenced her in pursuit of college and career:

I have been blessed to have a wonderful support system and a healthy level of competition throughout my life. My parents, from a young age, instilled in me the importance of an education and the desire to succeed. They inspired my brother [Joe Koterba ’09 (NDP)] and me to set and achieve our goals and gave us the tools and opportunities we needed to do so. When I got to Notre Dame, I was surrounded by other students who had similar goals. We pushed each other to do better in a competitive—but not cutthroat—environment. 

I still strive to improve myself. I have so much to learn and so much that I want to accomplish. My experiences, ND included, gave me a solid foundation, academically and spiritually, upon which I will continue to build.  

As I mentioned above, I developed time management and organizational skills from being involved in extracurricular activities. These skills are more important now than ever, as I have clients that need assistance and deadlines that have to be met. The Firm where I work definitely has a team atmosphere. We work together to give our clients the best product possible, and we all have strengths that contribute to the success of the firm as a whole. 

On favorite memories of Notre Dame and its faculty:

I have wonderful memories of cheering with the ND cheer team. We spent so much time together that we really became a family. We shared in each other’s joys, and we leaned on each other whenever we needed. And we laughed. A lot. Those four years on the team were so much fun and really taught me a lot about friendship and teamwork. I miss having such a strong bond with that group of amazing girls, and it was a privilege to have been a part of the team. 

We had so many great teachers at ND that it’s hard to name a favorite. I had Dr. Heinbuck for Honors Chemistry and AP Chemistry, and I think those classes were what led me to pursue a degree in chemical engineering. I had a lot of good friends in those classes as well, and we still laugh about moments in the lab.  

On why it’s important for alumni to support their alma mater:

I never would have expected that I would become a patent attorney, but I truly believe that God led me to where I’m at. I’m grateful to have grown up in an environment where our faith was celebrated and part of everyday classroom discussion. I’m glad I was encouraged to develop an unshakeable relationship with God and to continue to grow in my faith. 

School isn’t just about learning the material in a textbook. It’s about developing as a person, and being exposed to such positive role models, high expectations, and Christian teachings definitely help to form “Christian people, upright citizens, and academic scholars.” 

I feel blessed to have the opportunities I did. Alumni contributions helped to shape my experience at ND, and it’s important to pay it forward to provide the same, if not better, experiences for current and future students.  

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy

Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." The Marist Fathers and Brothers sponsor NDPMA's Catholic identity and manages its educational program. Notre Dame is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.

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