Karen Westergaard is Lecturer in English.
What’s your area of expertise?
Primarily, I focus on interpersonal communication: listening, nonverbal, verbal, and written. I’ve taught communication and presentation skills in business, STEM fields, and performance. I also enjoy working with other people’s writing and helping them refine their skills and ability to communicate efficiently.
What do you primarily research and/or teach?
Although I have taught business writing, advanced writing, composition, and literature classes, I have found my niche in the STEM/technical communications courses. Teaching especially STEM Comm II (ENGL 289) has allowed me to work with students to hone their writing and speaking skills in their areas of expertise and passion. Their excitement in their work is contagious.
And what drew you to this field?
Literally, a mentor and professor at USD lured me in, suggesting I pursue graduate studies and apply for a TA position. Initially, this was far from my plan; I had never planned to pursue a teaching career. However, as I finished my undergraduate degrees in English and Speech Communications, my husband was entering his second year of law school at USD, so we would be in Vermillion, SD, for two more years. Although I was skeptical, I decided to give grad school with a TA position a try. It worked out. I’ve been teaching for 36 years; 2023 marks my 25th year at SD Mines. Making and maintaining connections with students over the years is my favorite part of teaching.
What’s one of your favorite courses, topics, or specific texts to teach? Why?
I do enjoy working with students in written communication, but I love to work with them in all areas of interpersonal communication, focusing on verbal and nonverbal skills in presenting. Listening and thinking critically are also vital for success. Seeing students strengthen their skills and confidence in presenting in classes is rewarding, but hearing of their successes in applying communication strategies in their careers is the best.
What’s something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?
Raising our six kids with my husband and watching them grow into the adults they are makes me feel accomplished; however, I am so much prouder of the people they have become than I am of anything I have ever done. It’s pretty gratifying seeing them do the things I did or say the things I said to them as they were growing up now in their own relationships and raising their own children. I am also immensely proud of my three granddaughters and two grandsons and the people they are becoming. As parents, we may sometimes not realize the daily impact we have on our children. Seeing it coming through in their everyday lives brings me great joy. I do tease them that they have become me. Occasionally, I feel I may need to add an apology for that! Regardless, they were raised to meet high standards in both personal and professional relationships, and they have.
Tell us about a book you’ve read recently, a movie you’ve seen recently, or another work of art or media you’ve engaged with recently that you really enjoyed and would like to recommend.
My reading typically centers on light-hearted books that take me away from my surroundings. However, a recent book that sticks with me is The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. It is an historical fiction novel focused on the lives of two sisters in France during World War II and their struggle to survive and resist the German occupation of France. The story of each sister’s struggle to survive and of their contributions to France’s war efforts as well as their difficulties in maintaining their relationship in the midst of war is inspiring yet unsettling.
Tell us something about yourself outside of work. What do you enjoy doing? What’s a detail about you that your students might not already know?
The best thing that ever happened to me was getting pushed down the steps at school in kindergarten. This was my first encounter with my future husband. He had made the big move from country school to town school as a second grader, and my sister had a crush on him. Naturally, therefore, he had to pick on her, but he mistook me for her on the school steps. So, I took the fall for her. Rookie mistake, but it worked out for him. Apparently, I got past that; we started dating when I was just out of 8th grade and were married eight years later. We grew up together in rural southeastern South Dakota, sharing our families, our farms, and our lives. Through our years together, people would ask him if he had always wanted six kids. His reply every time was, “No; I wanted two, but my wife wanted six, so we compromised at six.” He eventually conceded that it was the best compromise he ever made. Growing up on a farm and working the land and livestock with family taught me a profound love of and respect for both family and the outdoors. That love transferred easily to my own family and the Black Hills. We spend our time together camping, hiking the hills, and relaxing at the lake. It’s amazing the impact, literally, that a rough push in kindergarten can have on a person’s future.