I wanted to start off this project with a shout-out to a woman in our field whom I have always looked up to and wanted to emulate. I think it is important to show gratitude and not too long ago I had a colleague mention how she knows that she has mentored and helped many men in the field but rarely do they let her know. That women for the most part thank each other but too often men approached this work as if they are self-made. And this was not a traditional criticism. It was an outcome of a conversation on how we grow talent in higher ed and how gender roles play in this process. As we spoke I began to consider how seldom I thank women in my life who make a difference. To be fair, I don’t think being sincere is a strong suit of mine anyways. I tend to be one of two things, stoic or a jokester. Showing gratitude is honestly something I struggle with and often do not do well. So, here is am, ready to say thanks to a woman who likely has no idea I am going to name drop her today.
Karen Boyd is an Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee but that is not where I know her from. I first met Karen when I was an undergrad at East Carolina University where she worked. So here is the scoop. During my freshman year I was found in-violation for breaking curfew in an all-female residence hall. I had helped a fellow student get back to her room safely after a night of drinking and was caught when I tried to leave the room and return to my room. I pleaded guilty as charged and had to go to a session on campus safety and I felt the whole thing was behind me. Cut to two years later and I am applying to be a Resident Assistant on campus. At some point in the process I was deemed ineligible to be an RA because I had a previous violation. I appealed and had to meet with Karen for my appeal. While she was very kind and understood the reason for my violation. But she held firm and denied my application as an RA. I told her how upset I was but that I understood actions have consequences. I am not sure what made her follow-up but not long after she called me into her office and said, while I did not get an RA spot there is a student employment opportunity in the housing office if I wanted to check it out. I did and I worked as a student worker for housing just as I was exploring higher ed as a career. Karen always made a point to check in on me and I kept her updated of my grad school choices. Soon after I enrolled at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. I did not run into Karen for nearly 15 years.
In 2011 I moved to Orlando for a job at the University of Central Florida. That year I completed my doctorate and soon after was offered to teach a course in the Higher Ed program at UCF. As part of the faculty I was invited to Dr. Boyd’s class to speak about being a scholar and practitioner. The moment I walked in the room I recognized her. And Karen recognized me. We gave each other a big hug and after class we caught up with how our lives had gone. It was like I was back in her office in 1994 but this time we were peers. And she treated me as such and we talked about that day I was in her office. I learned on that day I wanted to go into this career because I really respected how seamlessly she was able to hold me accountable for not following the rules but also find that supportive environment where I could grow. It was the true challenge and support climate we all talk about but so many of fail to accomplish.
To this day Karen makes a point to message me, call me, or find me at NASPA to check in and remind me of why I am doing this work. She has never let me down and I hope I have not let her down (except for breaking curfew of course). She has this smile when she sees you that immediately you know you are with a person who cares about you and wants to help you get to where you need to be. Karen is also the kind of professional I want to be. Fiercely dedicated to students and their development she does not seem to have taken jobs because they have a title, prestige, or salary. She does it for the work. Of course success has always followed her but to me her success is in each of her students. Karen gives the best hugs! She just seems to know the right thing to say at the right moment. And here is my favorite part. She is the kind of scholar / practitioner I want to be. One look at her publications listing show her almost renaissance wonder in various subjects in higher ed. I have said this to her and I am still trying. Karen is who I want to be when I grow up. She is one of my Higher Ed heroes.