Technews Writer
Tue Aug 31, 2010

As vice president of Academic Affairs for the IIT Student Government Association (SGA) for the 2009-2010 school year, Karen Nelson has revolutionized the performance of her Senate team, focused on major academic issues important to students, and gone above the expectations of the student body.

With her leadership in the last year, the Academic Affairs Committee of SGA has worked diligently on several huge topics of student interest. They are drafting a major proposal with the Galvin Library and OTS staff to possibly elevate our Galvin Library to a 24-hour academic hub with all Night Owl computer programs available around the clock. This process required great attention to detail, patience, cooperation with several affected areas, and coordination of differing ideas.

Her committee members also worked to draft the new IPRO 2.0 model, bring a coffee machine to Crown, and seek the publication of professor evaluations.

More recently, the committee is turning to address the high-interest languages issue. By really digesting the complicated issues involved in bringing language classes to IIT, and with supportive suggestions from the provost, Karen’s team is drafting another important proposal for the students of IIT.

Last Friday, I met Karen (who is graduating in May this year) at Starbucks to discuss her tenure as vice president of Academic Affairs. Here is what I found.

Ray: How would you describe your group?
Karen: I really like our group this year. Everyone that is there is really into it. We’re a smaller group, but everyone is making a big contribution for the students at IIT. Most probably won’t realize just how much they’re affected by my committee member’s strong efforts, but they are doing an excellent job. Everyone is on board with getting things done; everyone is pumped.

Ray: What are your biggest issues in Academic Affairs?
Karen: Well, definitely last semester our focus was on the Galvin Library proposal. Patience in working as a collective group (Galvin staff, OTS, etc.) was tough but rewarding, and I feel like their support really gave us a huge confidence boost. We’re definitely looking forward to finishing the proposal process, even if several of us (including myself) aren’t here to see it develop.

This semester though, I think we’re going to have a big impact on changes in IIT curriculum. We’re focusing on languages, particularly for undergraduates, and coming up with solutions to make this feasible has been difficult. Basically, we had to dissect the real problem with languages at IIT. When languages like Arabic 1 or Chinese 1 are offered, they’re rarely taken because they don’t often help students meet their general education requirements, and thus, they have no time to make them. The lack of depth in each subject was difficult, too. However, I think our committee has really come up with some great recommendations and we’ll be working with many influential faculty and administrators to hammer out the details in fixing these problems.

IPRO 2.0 has been huge too, and I think the unveiling of that to students will really set the tone for an improved curriculum at IIT. It is kind of lame that I won’t be here to see all these great changes come through, but I think students beyond me will really appreciate it.

Ray: What do you recommend to those new students? If you did it all over again, what advice would you give?
Karen: Get involved in something: the gym, student organizations, anything. Just doing school isn’t satisfying. Try joining a professional society and work on projects that relate to your major outside the classroom. As a civil engineer, seeing the work of students in groups like Engineers Without Borders (EWB) or the Steel Bridge projects really contributed to their learning at school.

IPRO’s can help a lot, but choose one that is related to your major to boost your resume, and make sure it’s with people that are enthusiastic. Finally, work hard for what you’re capable of. I think I knew I was capable of doing well in many areas, and doing less (while ok) just wasn’t acceptable. I can look back on my time at IIT and know I accomplished the things I set out to do.

Ray: Have you accomplished all your goals? What do you still hope to do?
Karen: Well in SGA, I wish we’d been able to start researching the feasibility of switching IIT email over to Google (Gmail). Most students use Gmail and ignore their IIT accounts for the most part, plus we’ve heard that Gmail might actually save the university money. We definitely don’t know enough yet about the possibility, but it’s definitely intriguing and I wish we could look into it.

Ray: What have you learned as VP about yourself?
Karen: Wow, that’s a tough question. I’ve learned that the hardest thing in leadership is motivating a group. Getting them to where they are now took a lot of long-term work in development. Changes in group dynamic are not immediate, and I needed to tap into my enthusiasm to lead by example.

Providing reasonable expectations has been huge, too. If we’d told the committee that the Galvin Library proposal could be pulled off in a month, or even a semester, I might’ve lost half my committee in December. And if you set small tasks that can be accomplished throughout a big project, members constantly feel rewarded for their efforts. It’s definitely been a learning process, and I had to learn many of these things by experience. You don’t just find this stuff in a book.

Ray: What have you enjoyed most while at IIT?
Karen: Ha-ha, while I think it’s not the most typical experience, I think performing in “Little Shop of Horror” was a great experience. I was introduced to a whole different group of friends, and I think that what diversity at IIT is all about. You have to make the effort to get involved in it, but the reward of making new friends is so worth it.

I would definitely say Kappa has been a big part of my experience, but they’re more like family than an IIT experience.

Also, I remember the good old days pulling pranks on our friends in MSV. We had so much free time freshman year, and we definitely abused it with too many good times.

Ray: What are your plans after graduating in May?
Karen: I’m a bit torn. I’ve interviewed for a great internship, and I’d love to gain some experience, especially this summer. However, if I get accepted to the master’s programs I’ve applied to at MIT or UI, I have to accept; I can’t pass that up. With the economy the way it is, I’d like to really hammer out my master’s degree and then pursue my career in structural engineering. It’s been a great experience at IIT, and I’m definitely sad to leave, but I’m feeling pretty good about everything I’ve been able to do here and hope the next phase in life is just as rewarding.

Karen is graduating in May 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. Her term as SGA vice president of Academic Affairs ends on April 6 when a newly elected executive board is inaugurated.

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