Behind the Uniform: Karen Ryan

Many students only know Karen Ryan, assistant to the dean, as the name at the bottom of an administrative e-mail. Whether helping students to make study abroad plans or facilitating their contact with the deans, Ryan’s vibrant personality and welcoming presence make her easy to talk to. I sat down with Ryan in the office last week to get the story behind the woman who plays such an important role in our academic careers.

Ryan grew up in the nearby town of Adams, Mass. She graduated from Drury High School and, because of her interest in business, went on to pursue a secretarial degree from the Berkshire Community College.

When Ryan arrived on campus 15 years ago, she began her work in the President’s office. The job was very administrative and because she spent most of her time behind the scenes, Ryan was not able to get to know the students on campus as well as she does now. She spent seven years in that position, until transferring to Alumni Relations, and then to the deans’ office, where we can now find her. The switch allowed her to work with students more closely, something she strongly wanted from her job.

As assistant to Dean Johnson and Dean McKeon, Ryan has her hands full daily. Aside from helping the deans, she also helps plan First Days and the first-year experience. Currently, she works with the Junior Advisors, making sure communication between them and the deans flows smoothly as well as coordinating entry fund expenses and with those students who choose to study abroad. Ryan starts helping these students with their study away plans in their sophomore year and continues communication with them throughout their junior year.

When I asked Ryan what her favorite thing about her job is, I wasn’t surprised to hear her response: “Working with students,” she said. From the beginning of the interview, she made it clear that she was not only honored to be interviewed, but also that she wanted the students to know how much she loves helping them, regardless of their reasons for coming into the deans’ office. I then went on to ask her what her most memorable moment at the job was. Ryan took a while before replying, “It’s great when students remember you,” she said, and went on to say that her favorite moment was not just one moment, but all the times students wrote to her long after graduation, thanking her for her help throughout their college years.

After talking a little about her job and the perks that come with it, I asked her some broader questions.

Because of her many years of living in the Berkshires, I wanted to know what changes in the community Ryan has been witness to over the years. She recalled that while growing up, North Adams was a thriving town, with lots of mills. Sprague Electric, a shoe factory, was running in the space that now houses Mass MoCA, and with it came plenty of employment opportunities for the people of Pittsfield. Ryan explained that after the mills closed a lot of people lost work and, while the community is building itself up these days, it is taking a while. I then asked her about any changes she’s noticed within the community of the College. “Students are more interested in their surroundings,” she replied, noting how students are very invested in taking care of their environment and more aware of the staff on campus as a part of their world.

After talking to her about her thoughts on the community, I then asked her about how she spends her free time, when she isn’t busy in the deans’ office. Ryan likes to spend her leisure time at her favorite camp in upstate New York. While there, she boats on the lake and catches up on events with her children and grandchildren. Ryan also loves to crochet and is currently in the process of crocheting a baby’s blanket.

Curious to know what her future plans might be, I asked Ryan if she knows what she wants to do in the years to come. Ryan says she plans on staying here at the College until retirement.

As our interview was nearing the end, Ryan was very adamant that I make it clear to students how much she loves her job. As she got up from her seat, she parted with an important piece of advice: “[There’s] nothing better than loving your job, because it is never work.”