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Wishing Karen a GLORIOUS Retirement!

She's Leaving Mason . . . but She’ll Always Be with Her Many Friends!

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"In 2008,” Karen Underwood said, “while living in Amherst, MA, and working at Amherst College, my husband told me he had accepted a position in Arlington, VA.   So, I started to look for administrative jobs in academic institutions within NoVa.  I knew I wanted to find a position where I could continue to work with students.  I saw a job posting for a position at George Mason University's Fairfax campus.  I told my husband ‘This job is mine!’  I interviewed and was hired in Summer 2008.  Originally, the job was part-time but eventually became full-time when I started to take on more academic responsibilities.”

What’s best about working at Mason?  Karen’s answer leaves no doubt:

“Colleagues:  my colleagues throughout the University have been wonderful to work with.  I have learned so much from them.  It was obvious that we shared a common goal of helping students reach their educational goals.  Faculty:  I have been blessed with working with faculty that are smart, respectful, kind, appreciative and who sincerely care about students.  And most important:  Students.  Students. Students.

“Yes, I have repeated students three times.  I truly respect these students who are pursuing graduate education. They too are smart, respectful, kind, and appreciative.  Many of these students are working full-time and expanding their families.  It has been a pleasure to be part of their academic journey.”

Her job at Mason with the College of Science, specifically as the Academic Programs Manager first with CSS within the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study and now CDS, is a critical one. As Academic Programs Administrator, she is, on paper, responsible for advising the students in the CDS graduate program. In reality, she walks virtually, sometimes literally, with each one of them along the sometimes rocky path from admission to graduation.  Her concern for their welfare and success is very real and has uplifted and sent on their way, relieved and confident, many a beleaguered graduate student, most of whom see Karen at least one more time: on graduation day.  This special relationship with her students is reflected touchingly in testimonies (below) from many of them. 

Karen is admired for the diligence and kindness with which she shepherds her graduate students through their time at Mason; she is widely loved by students, staff, and faculty for her cooperative spirit, her generosity in sharing both her time and her knowledge, and for her sense of humor and the laughter that brightens everyone’s day.

On leaving Mason, she reflects, “I will miss Mason, but I take with me many memories that I can tap into every now and then. I also take with me a folder of photos of students' weddings, children, and pets, along with very kind emails from students and faculty.   Memories are the BEST gifts."

Many of Karen’s co-workers and students would agree.  To Dr. Jason Kinser, CDS Chair, “Scant words cannot relay the appreciation I’ve had Karen Underwood over the past five years.  As the CDS department burgeoned from a fledgling department to the fifth largest in the College of Science, Karen has provided innumerable achievements and accomplishments. She has fostered an excellent work environment, which made our daily toils more enjoyable and our staff meetings the envy of other departments.  She solved various problems – often before they became problems.  Perhaps most important, she made sure that administrative hurdles were surpassed so students could receive their degree in a timely manner.  Several students, many of whom don’t even know it, owe the expediency of their graduation to Karen Underwood. A host of people have contributed to the health of CDS.  Karen has certainly been a part of that growth.  For all we’ve been through in the past five years, I thank her with gratitude that I am unable to fully express.” 

A few sentiments from others whom Karen touched:

I will miss you a lot, especially in the meetings we were misbehaving in.  Like we always say before the meeting starts, "we have to behave this time."  Please keep in touch.

-Christine Amaya, staff

The first time I met Karen I was a scared, shy and new graduate student in Computational Social Sciences and I will never forget how much help and kindness she showed me so that I could navigate through a new program and a new culture and a new country. Years later, after I rejoined Mason as faculty, I found the same wonderful Karen as a colleague and as an office neighbor and everything felt like home again. These past few years she has been an incredible colleague, she has been taking a lot of work off of faculty, and she has always gone the extra mile both for students and faculty. I fondly think of her as part of the CSS-CDS family, the “CSS mom” as she has always called herself, and I will miss her so much, I have no words.

- Anamaria Berea, faculty

Karen has been an amazing cornerstone of our Computational Social Science graduate program since the early days and a major blessing in the life of students, faculty, and staff. A true jewel in GMU’s crown.

-Claudio Cioffi, faculty

As a former director of graduate studies, without Karen, the job of director of graduate studies would have been horrendous. She always knew what to do and if not would know who to ask. Without her, many students would not have their degrees today and certain faculty would be nervous wrecks.          

-Andrew Crooks, faculty 

I can’t even remember when I first met Karen - it’s been so many years. Her presence and contributions to the College of Science are significant. She is a wonderful and knowledgeable colleague who always has a smile and words of encouragement for everyone. Karen also is one who steps up quickly to help with any college activity. I not only consider her a colleague, but a friend – one who will be dearly missed. I wish her well on her next adventure! 

-Teri Fede, staff

Working with Karen has really been a joy.  I’ll miss her smiling face at our scheduling sessions whether in person or Zoom.  She always brightened my day and I was always happy to see her name in the inbox.  She will be truly missed.

- Anne Firth, staff

I just want to say Karen was a vital part of my continuing studies in the CDS program, and I'm pretty sure I would have given up without her continued support and insight. Her advice and encouragement were greatly appreciated.

- Cristina Grieg, student

Recently, we have seen how toxic environments can thrive in academia. The CSS department at GMU was nothing like this; on the contrary, it was an encouraging community that encouraged synergies between its diverse members and praised their creativity to think out of the box. Karen was central to all this. To many international students, she became a heartwarming person who would make you feel at home and allow you to leave behind worries about toxic dynamics while focusing on successfully completing your degree. Professionally, she was a great and easy person to work with; she just got things done. I am grateful for her time and effort in helping build such a thriving community and wish her the best in her future plans.

- Omar Guerrero, student

Karen, you will be missed!  I hope you are proud of the work you've done and the difference that you've made in the lives of many (including mine).  It's been such a pleasure to call you a colleague and friend for so many years.  Have lots of fun in retirement and I hope you and Jeff spend many hours dancing like no one is watching. 

-Melissa Hayes, staff 

Thanks for always bringing positive energy and giving great advice. You will be missed!

-Carissa Hunter, staff

You've been such an important part of my experience as a student here, making sure the system is working how it needs to, and helping people like me navigate it. I really wanted you to be there when I graduate.  I hope you would find a way to participate in the ceremony if/when I graduate.  When we met, you mentioned your care and concern for the part-time PhD students like me who have families and full-time jobs.  There have been a few times through my journey where you helped me get pushed forward through a path that I couldn't navigate alone.  If (when) I graduate, you will have been a major part of my journey and this period of my life.  The doctorate has different meanings for different people, but the journey they share is similarly arduous.  Your kindness and compassion are even more important than the help you provide.  Thank you so much and I look forward to inviting you to my graduation!

-Tahir Hafeez, student

Karen is a unique and lovely person with an excellent work ethic and passion. In the last three years I worked with her, I saw nothing but joy and positive energy from her. I will miss her so much.

-Hamdi Kavak, faculty

When I started at Mason, there was no one available to train me in my new job.  Fortunately, Karen was there and her encouragement and instinctive knowledge for how to do things and whom to turn to when she didn’t know how to do them made me feel at home and comfortable from day one.  Her kindness and laughter brightened all my days. Thanks, Karen!

-Dorothy Kondal, staff

I love working with Karen.  She brings a refreshing spirit to any task and always gets the job done. Also, Karen loves loves loves her students and they are her reason for doing the great work she does. Simply put “Karen ROCKS”!

-Laura A. Kasik, staff

Karen, from our start in 2008, always made good things happen for our students, from the first PhDs in Computational Social Science through the transition to the College of Science and beyond.  She also took care of the faculty when we frequently needed help with anything. I hope she realizes how her positive energy and spirit of service for our students made a mark on our students, our programs, and will keep us going for a long time to come.

-Bill Kennedy, faculty

Karen was the most joyful colleague one could ever wish for - always happy to help student and faculty with whatever they needed, always with a positive view of the future! We’ll miss you!!!

-Natalie Lapidot-Croitoru, staff 

I knew about Karen since before I even applied for a job at CDS. One of my colleagues is an alum of the department and had already mentioned Karen, and thus, I knew how much she was loved and respected by the students. At a personal level, Karen has made this department feel like a home rather than just a place to work. She has been warm and caring. In a past world when people used to meet face-to-face, visiting Karen was one of the pleasures of coming into work. One of my son's baby pictures still adorns her office... it is hard not to feel at home when visiting.  Finally, the two of us could always come up with the best NFL banter in the department and direct it onto our esteemed, but generally unlucky, fellow football fans from other teams. Bad luck to them.

-Eduardo Lopez, faculty

Karen is truly one of the nicest people I have ever met, and a dear friend and colleague. She has always brightened my day, and she even surprised me by hosting a baby shower for us when Trish and I were preparing for Georgie's arrival. We wish Karen and family all the best, and hope we can get lunch soon!

-Stu, Trish and Georgie MacKenzie, staff

I want to thank her for all her help through my study at Mason. With her, I don’t have to put in extra effort to deal with all the different types of forms from various sources. She always has everything prepared for us! I feel I am really lucky to have an advisor like Karen!

-Richard Niang, student

I’ve worked with Karen in Scheduling. She has always been one of the nicest scheduling coordinators. I’m sad to see her go but wish her the best retirement ever! I’ll miss you Karen!

-Pennie the Pink Panther O’Brien 😊, staff

Karen, what a superstar you have been for the CSS/CDS department. You did amazing good keeping everyone on track and ensuring the department ran smoothly. Have a great retirement, as you certainly deserve.

-Matt Oldham, student

What can I possibly say to encompass all the great things that Karen has done for the CSS/CDS department? She's been a steadfast figurehead for me as much as anyone else -- she made so many things *function*, so often! And with such a warm and welcoming attitude. I count Karen as a genuine friend, and one of the things I missed the most when I was no longer regularly visiting campus was seeing Karen and simply catching up. She's done so much for me when I was a student navigating the application, then acceptance, then core curriculum, then dissertation stages, then graduation stages -- if there was ever a problem that seemed immovable, I knew Karen could get things working. I very much wish her the best in her next endeavors!!

-Nathan Palmer, student

I matriculated to GMU as a part-time CSS PhD student during the height of the pandemic. Karen provided guidance and made me feel at home during a challenging time. She was incredible with helping my academics get started correctly and I'll forever be thankful to her.

-Clark Petri, student

Karen was always there to solve your problems, with a smile and no fuss, no muss. Next person up has big shoes to fill.

-Ralph Romanelli, faculty

It’s been such a pleasure to work with you in COS. You’ll be surprised how quickly your Mason life will fade into distant memory once you retire! And all the stress and worry will fade too.  I wish you all the best in your retirement, to find new hobbies and go on many adventures. Take care and best wishes.

-Diane St. Germain, staff

Karen has always been a joy to work with.  No matter what academic crisis or bureaucratic hitch came up, she was always able to handle the situation with grace and good humor.  We'll miss her dearly, but wish her the best of luck in her new adventures!

-Stephen Scott, faculty

Saying that Karen will be missed by her GMU family is certainly an understatement.  She has been the backbone of CDS--and specifically, the CSS program--for many years.  No matter the situation, Karen always had a smile on her face and made sure her "children" (aka students) were doing well.  I was always so excited and proud to share my memories, experiences, and pictures of my son Liam with her.  She genuinely took an interest in my life!

-Brandon Shapiro, student

I learned a lot from Karen as a mentor when I was learning the ropes as a new graduate coordinator.  But what makes her so special is that she’s such an amazing, supportive person who took the time to make me laugh when she was super busy with her own workload!

-Sarah Tomsyck, staff 

When I first started at GMU, Karen was the first person to reach out to me to offer help and even organized a monthly meeting for other COS staff to communicate and share tips to help each other. She was always quick to answer, and if she didn't know the answer, she worked with me until we unearthed one. We were fortunate to have her as a resource and more importantly, a friend; we could all benefit from more people like Karen and the sense of community that she brings. She's irreplaceable and I'll miss her dearly. Wishing her the best on her retirement journey.

-Brooke Vaughn, staff

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How do you say goodbye to someone you’ll miss like

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crazy? The answer is:  you don’t!  You say “good luck” and “we’ll miss you” and “of course the New England Patriots

are the greatest!”  but “talk to you soon!” is always good -- because there are dozens of ways to do precisely that!   


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Yes, Karen.  It’ll be like you haven’t left at all!





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