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Patterson strives to build on College’s academic excellence as Randolph trustee

When interviewing at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL) for a field biologist position in 1973, Karen Patterson ’73 was asked just two questions: “Can you swim?” and “Would you like to work here?” SREL knew Patterson, a Randolph-Macon Woman’s College biology major, was the right candidate for the job the minute they received her resume. The interview was a formality.

Karen K. Patterson

Karen K. Patterson

“Dr. Gibbons, who became my boss, major professor, mentor, and friend, said, ‘My mother went to R-MWC, and she’s smart, so I know you’re smart. You’re hired,’” Patterson said. “I got that first job at SREL because I had gone to R-MWC, and it has led to all the things I have done since.”

That position led to a career in researching the natural and man-made effects of nuclear energy on the environment. Now a member of the Randolph College Board of Trustees, Patterson is working to uphold the College’s reputation as a premier liberal arts institution and help other graduates land jobs based on the value of their Randolph degrees.

After graduating from R-MWC, Patterson earned a master’s degree in biology from Wake Forest University. She credits her undergraduate liberal arts education for making her a well-rounded employee and person.

“I have been successful because that career path required not only expertise in biology, but an understanding of nuclear materials, an understanding of policy and politics, an ability to clearly and succinctly express my ideas to technical professionals and to people without a technical background, and the ability to communicate with people who don’t hold the same opinions I do,” she said.

Giving back to Randolph is nothing new for Patterson. She had previously served on the Board as part of her role as president of the R-MWC Alumnae and and Randolph College Alumni Association from 2012 to 2015. She has also been a chapter president and secretary for the Association and is a generous supporter of the Annual Fund each year.

When she’s not doing environmental research or weighing in on the state of higher education, Patterson enjoys hiking in the woods, canoeing, and reading. She lives in Aiken, South Carolina.

“I think I bring the same things as other trustees—a loyalty and dedication to the College, and the commitment to work hard and think hard,” Patterson said. “My career has given me skills and knowledge that are useful when grappling with issues in higher education. Thanks to my liberal arts and science college experiences, it is easy to draw on multiple disciplines when addressing an issue.”


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