Kari’s professional journey has truly come full circle. After taking her first service learning course while majoring in Community & Nonprofit Leadership, she knew she wanted to work for the Morgridge Center for Public Service. Now, 8 years later, she does! Housed in the Red Gym, the Morgridge Center for Public Service connects campus and community through direct service, service learning and community-based research to build a thriving democratic society. As the Badger Volunteers Assistant Coordinator, Kari feels that her job doesn’t feel like work, rather, it’s a way to put her values into action every day. Following graduation in 2009, Kari completed a year of service in Iowa, another year of service in Colorado, earned her master’s degree in Public Service from Marquette University, She then landed back in Madison, where her heart has always stayed.
Did you come to UW-Madison with an eye toward a career in the service field?
Like so many others, I started out thinking I would go the pre-med route and become a doctor. Then I failed chemistry. And dropped calculus. After being valedictorian in high school, that was quite a blow, but in hindsight I’m glad I learned so quickly that the science field wasn’t right for me. I basically stumbled upon the Community & Nonprofit Leadership (CNPL) major when I was a junior, and it was the best thing that could have happened for my future both professionally and personally. I did a ton of volunteering with Colleges Against Cancer and the American Cancer Society, and I thought that I loved working with that nonprofit because of its mission, and being a cancer survivor myself. However, my major showed me that I felt at home and excelled in nonprofit leadership and in its culture in general, not just in the cancer realm. My classes helped me evolve my identity form cancer survivor to public servant and solidified my career path toward the nonprofit sector.
How did being a SoHE student prepare you for what you’re doing now?
What I learned through my studies was practical and immediately applicable. From small tasks like writing a blog, to larger ones such as strategic planning, I’m happy to say that what I learned in my major was absolutely relevant to my day to day career. More than that, the people I met through the CNPL major have been great colleagues, friends and mentors, many of whom I still keep in touch with today.
Give us an example of the kinds of projects you’re involved in.
For my day job, I have the pleasure and honor of connecting over 650 students each semester with consistent and meaningful volunteer experiences. I coordinate the student-facing side of the program, facilitate orientations, and manage the program logistics. Outside of work, I’m involved in several volunteer positions in the Madison community. I’m the Board President of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, an organization that provides professional development and social opportunities to young professionals in the nonprofit field. I’m also on the Board Training Committee, where I lead workshops on how and why to join a nonprofit board in Madison. All of the projects I’m involved in tie back to building community.
What advice do you have for today’s SoHE students?
I think that getting outside of the campus bubble is a really important. A great way to do that is through volunteering, but I’m a little biased. Also, and again, connected to volunteering – taking a service learning course was one of the best things I did as an undergrad. Service learning courses are experiential and tie what you’re learning in the classroom to actual needs in the community that you can meet through volunteering. It’s a holistic and enriching way to learn. Lastly, be brave and explore new things, new ideas, new places, and new people. You have a plethora of opportunities to do that now while at UW-Madison, and it’s not going to be as easy after graduation!
What I learned through my studies was practical and immediately applicable.