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'Blugold Spotlight' features Dr. Karen Havholm

| Jesse Yang (story + video)

Education and research are at the center of Dr. Karen Havholm’s career. Havholm first joined the Blugold family in 1993 as a geology faculty member and in 2006 transitioned to her role as assistant vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs and director of the Center of Excellence for Faculty and Undergraduate Research in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

As a faculty member, Havholm mentored Blugolds in research on windblown sand dunes and rocks formed from sand dunes in the U.S. and Canada.

“Coming full circle now, working in ORSP, I get to encourage and help students in all disciplines get involved in research so they too can have an opportunity to experience what research can do for them,” Havholm says.

Having had a rich research experience as an undergraduate student herself, and then as a mentor, Havholm loves learning about and helping faculty-student research collaborations come to fruition.

Raised in Okinawa, Japan, and Cyprus in the Middle East, Havholm valued the culture and diverse backgrounds of the people who lived there. However, going to college in the U.S. brought its own challenges.

“It was sort of a culture shock to me. I’d lived in an international community most of my early life up until college, and most of my peers didn’t have that same background as I did and hadn’t experienced that,” Havholm says. “For a while, I felt like a fish out of water and stopped talking about my background. I was so homesick. But eventually I made friends and started to feel more comfortable. Then I was able to be more of my authentic self and share my international experience. I was also lucky to be able to return to the Middle East during college to do my own undergraduate research project.”

The geologist says students should engage in research opportunities when they’re able because people can strengthen their communication, critical thinking and problem-solving skills while growing professionally in their field of study. This can help with getting a job or getting into graduate school.

“You get opportunities to share what you know with others; you’re the expert and get to be the person talking with authority about that topic,” Havholm says.

While she’s no longer teaching in the classroom or conducting research in the field, Havholm’s position in the research office allows her to work with faculty and students in other ways to continue fostering scholarship.

When asked what she liked about being a Blugold, she said, “Every time I am involved in some initiative with other faculty and staff on campus, it reminds me anew of how lucky I am to be at UW-Eau Claire because the people here are so smart and dedicated to making this a place where Blugold students have a wonderful, and very rich, experience. My colleagues here are phenomenal. The students who faculty get to work with, they’re amazing. They come from all backgrounds and all walks of life. They’re smart, hard-working, enthusiastic and interested in learning about the world. From my point of view, the best part of being a Blugold is having had the opportunity to work with so many of the wonderful faculty, staff and students who make UW-Eau Claire such a special place to be a part of.”

In light of Havholm’s upcoming retirement at the end of January, she is working to create an endowment through the UW-Eau Claire Foundation that will support student-faculty collaborative research. The funds generated by the endowment would be designated to support faculty-mentored student research in ways Havholm’s successors in the research office determine is most needed and beneficial for Blugolds doing research. The hope is to make access to a research experience available to any student who seeks it.

“My dream is to see this endowment grow over time to help support students and faculty in doing their rich and varied research work far into the future.”