Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Karen Patterson '73 speaks to Summer Research students

Students conducting research at Randolph College recently gained insight by listening to Karen Patterson ’73 talk about her life and her career.

Patterson, president of the Alumnae and Alumni Association and a member of the College’s Board of Trustees, spoke with Summer Research students while she was on campus for Reunion last week. She explained how her college education prepared her to pursue her multifaceted career.

Karen Patterson ’73 visits with Hart Gillespie ’15 after her
presentation to Randolph’s Summer Research students.
“As a science major at a liberal arts college, you aren’t limited to just science for the rest of your life,” she told them.

Patterson majored in biology at R-MWC. She was a student when the City of Lynchburg purchased land around Blackwater Creek and asked the College to help assess water quality and stayed to work on a summer project that involved taking and testing water samples. “That was my first experience with true research,” she said.

After she graduated, Patterson was hired at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. She got the job thanks to her ability to swim—the job required snorkeling—and because she had attended R-MWC, which happened to be the alma mater of the mother of the man who hired Patterson.

She went on to earn masters degrees at Wake Forest University and the University of South Carolina. Today, she is the environmental sciences group manager and a project manager at the environmental consulting and engineering firm Tetra Tech. Among other tasks, she writes reports for nuclear power plant license renewal applications.

Patterson also chairs the South Carolina Governor’s Nuclear Advisory Council and is on the executive boards of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness (a non-profit dedicated to educating the public about the safety and value of nuclear energy) and the SRS Heritage Foundation. She recently was elected as the president of the R-MWC Alumnae and Randolph College Alumni Association.

Patterson said she was excited to learn about the variety of Summer Research projects students are pursuing this summer, including one project that continues to study water quality in Blackwater Creek.

“You are well ahead of where I was when I was your age, in terms of connecting science with your other studies,” she said. She added that students who are conducting research at Randolph now can play a role in helping communicate science to politicians, policymakers, and the public.