STS Faculty Profile: Karen Westergaard

STS Faculty Profile

Karen Westergaard is Lecturer in English.

Photo of Karen Westergaard sitting on a rock in the middle of greenery and trees.

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.

Black and white image of Karen Westergaard in a kayak on a lake, with trees and rocks on the shore in the background.
The Future if there is one is Female

Women in Science & Technology III: Now and Into the Future

Women in STEM

In this third entry in our women in science and technology series, we focus on women working right now and on the impacts women can continue to have into the future. Two of today’s entries deal with weather and climate, attesting to the importance of climate to our present and future; two emphasize the relationship between science and the arts; and one illustrates the potential our students here at South Dakota Mines have to build on the accomplishments of past women in STEM and to shape the future.

Katherine Hayhoe – selected by Frank Van Nuys

Canadian-born Katherine Hayhoe is a well-known figure in climate activism circles, in large part because of her down-to-earth and engaging skills as a science communicator. After completing a B.S. in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto, she switched to atmospheric science for her M.S. and Ph.D. at the University of Illinois-Champaign. She is currently a professor of Political Science at Texas Tech University, where she also co-directs that institution’s Climate Center. In addition to more than 125 peer-reviewed publications, Hayhoe has contributed to climate change studies by the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As an evangelical Christian, Dr. Hayhoe has tried to bridge the gap between science and religion, particularly on climate change. Between 2016 and 2019, she hosted and produced a PBS web series, Global Weirding: Climate, Politics, and Religion

Nathalie Miebach – selected by Matt Whitehead

Nathalie Miebach is an artist who uses weather data to create sculptures and collaborative musical scores. In her sculptures she uses basket weaving techniques, assigning different reed thickness, colors, and other objects to specific types of weather data, often focusing on extreme weather events such as hurricanes. As she says in her TED talk, “Weather is an amalgam of systems that is inherently invisible to most of us. So I use sculpture and music to make it, not just visible, but also tactile and audible.” Science is important, but if it cannot be communicated to others and understood – both intellectually and emotionally – its importance is limited. Miebach’s work helps communicate science to a broader audience and also shows that art and science can be understood together. Learn more about her work at her site, and check out her TED talk about her art using weather data below.

Laurie Spiegel – selected by Matthew Bumbach

Laurie Spiegel (b.1945) is a computer graphics specialist who has worked at Bell Laboratories since 1973. She is also a classical composer, guitarist, and lutist. Spiegel has found a way to combine her passions through the medium of electronic music both as a composer and as a programmer. Though she is a well-known composer and performer, she is most celebrated as the creator of the program Music Mouse.

Music Mouse demonstration

Music Mouse is an “intelligent” algorithmic music composition software. With a built-in knowledge of chords use, scale conventions, and stylistic practices, the software allows the user to create real-time compositions by simply moving the mouse. Spiegel has used the software for several compositions, including Cavis muris (1986) and Sound Zones (1990).

Laurie Spiegel ‎- The Expanding Universe (1980)

Laurie Spiegel’s revolutionary work in the field of technology has led to countless innovations. Her influence as a composer and performer, however, has propelled electronic music forward at warp speed. While science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) profoundly impact our world, Laurie Spiegel’s ground-breaking career illustrates the potential impact of arts integration (STEAM).  

Kiley Westergaard – selected by Karen Westergaard

Without even knowing it, we rely on scientists for information in our everyday lives. We take products, and our scientists behind the scenes, for granted. Behind the scenes, a female scientist tests and labels our products, ensures they are safe, quality products for us to use. She’s behind that nutrition label on your food products. At her lab, she tests for the protein, the fat, the fiber, all the items on your nutrition label. She then generates the product nutritional label so that you know what you are consuming. For instance, those trending seltzers right now? She’s testing each seltzer and creating the nutritional label for each. Ever wonder how long a certain food lasts before it becomes rancid? She’d know. She tests products for that too. That’s why you have the convenience of product expiration labeling. Worried about consuming products with GMOs? She’s got that too. She tests products like corn and soybeans to determine if they are genetically modified. She’s the reason you can find products labeled non-GMO. Worried about your food containing traces of chicken, beef, pork, alligator, kangaroo, goat, or rabbit? With meat speciation, she tests to ensure the product that reaches your home is safe to consume and is labeled accurately. Ever think about who’s behind the scenes? Scientists like you. Scientists like Kiley Westergaard, Chem ’19, SD Mines.

If you missed them, check out our first and second entries in this series, too!