Karen Scolforo is officially the new president of Castleton University, having taken over Dave Wolk’s position on Dec. 4. She is the fourth woman to lead the university, is a New England girl and loves Vermont, the outdoors and education.
Q. What was your first impression of Castleton University?
A. My first impression really was my expectation, but I was blown away. The people throughout the campus – I feel like they walk around with moonbeams coming off of them. Everybody is so friendly and happy and smiling and passionate, and the faculty and staff are incredibly committed to the institution, to the students and I just love it. I love it here, it feels like home.
Q. So you would say it did meet your expectations then?
A. Well, it exceeded my expectations. The campus is absolutely beautiful. I have enjoyed all of the meetings that I have been able to hold and I have had an opportunity to get to know a lot of students a little bit, starting to get to know them. I’ve asked folks to tell me their first name when I see them, even if it takes a couple of times. I really want to get to know the students.
Q. Tell me a little bit about your first week on campus, how did it go?
A. It went great. I think my main goal was to walk around and get to know people, sort of get a sense of the culture here. You can feel when people are just happy; happy to be here, kind, joyful. So that has been wonderful. But I’ve also had an opportunity to kind of get my arms around our program of study, our goals for the institution, the direction we want to head in, ways that we can continually strengthen our academic programs and the experiences that students have here.
Q. You already seem to be a big hit with the students just in the first week. What does that mean to you?
A. Well I’ve already told a lot of students that I plan on spending time in the dining hall and going to events. I went to my first wrestling match this week, which I loved, our (wrestlers) players are amazing. They did an amazing job, they are fantastic athletes.I’m a huge fan of athletics and the arts and clubs. I went to the student government (SGA) meeting which I loved. When you have an opportunity to attend a student meeting and have a conversation with everyone around that table, it’s a better way to get to know each other and a chance to learn people’s names, programs, what they care about, where they are in their program of studies. I’m so excited to get to know everybody. I think my first impression of the students – is that they are curious, scholarly, kind – which I think is super important – ambitious, caring and well-rounded leaders.
Q. As Dave Wolk’s successor, you have some big shoes to fill. How do you plan on living up to that legacy and in turn create your own legacy at Castleton?
A. That’s a great question. I’m honored and I’m thrilled to be able to step in at a time when my predecessor did leave a wonderful legacy and also laid a foundation for growth. What’s kind of cool is he and I share some similarities. We are both collaborative leaders, we’re both student-focused leaders, we both care deeply about Castleton University and we both lead with the idea of an extended family. So those four characteristics will help for students, staff and faculty to feel that the transition is somewhat seamless. My job is to build equity in the diploma. In other words, the more that you continue to improve quality and strengthen programs – even though they’re strong – the more that we can make sure that we are highly competitive across higher education in terms of quality.
Q. What made you choose the quaint town of Castleton, Vermont?
A. I love it here. I had identified Vermont as my destination before the posting happened for Castleton. I knew that this was where I wanted to land in life. I was born and raised in New England, and for me this is coming home. What I particularly love about Vermont is the quintessential New England town. The fact that it’s small enough in this area – and even in the state – that people know each other, that people care about each other and again it’s that whole family environment. I wanted that for myself, and I’m also closer to my biological family. My mom, my sister, my children are all in New England now. So I’m able to see them again. When I was at my last position I was too far away to be able to attend things that easily. So I love the beauty of Vermont. I love the culture, I love the people, I knew I wanted to be here. So I feel truly blessed.
Q. You’re an outdoorswoman, correct? What do you like to do most outdoors, seasonal preference?
A. Yeah I’d call myself an outdoorswoman. Well in terms of season I love the fall. But I love all four seasons and I think that’s what makes New England so wonderful, is that we do have four vibrant wonderful seasons. My favorite things to do – I love to ride my bicycle. I don’t have a mountain bike but I’d love to get a mountain bike. My bike is a hybrid road-trail. So I can do the rail trails. I’m a hiking enthusiast. There’s not a better place to be for someone who loves to hike. I do ski but I haven’t skied in a long time, but I downhill ski. I do want to take up cross-country skiing. And in the summer, for the first time, I went kayaking and I loved it. So I could definitely see myself out on Lake Bomoseen. I think that would be a blast. I also love to run, I ran my first half-marathon last year.
Q. Hot apple cider or hot chocolate?
A. Ohh, goodness. I love them both. I think it depends on the season. So hot apple cider in the fall, hot chocolate in the winter.
Q. Where is the coolest place you’ve ever visited and what makes it so memorable for you?
A. One of my favorite places growing up that I loved to go to was the Lost River in Lincoln, New Hampshire. And I was definitely a huge fan of the state of New Hampshire. What makes it memorable is I love being outdoors. I tend to foster a childish spirit, and so it’s not unusual for me to be at a place like the Lost River and imagining sort of like a childish adventure.
Q. What do you like to do in your down-time? Any hobbies?
A. I’m a writer. I’m working on a book. I’ve studied at the graduate level. First I studied writing and literature, then I did a Master of Fine Arts. It’s about 85 percent edited. Often, if you’re self editing, it’s healthy to put space between your work so when you come back to it with more of a fresh perspective and that’s what I’m doing with that manuscript. I do enjoy writing, I journal everyday. Journaling for me is a great opportunity to reflect on what’s happened during the day. I learn from it, it’s a self assessment process where you sort of have a chance to capture the day’s events and think about them. I often journal in both the morning and at night. It’s also a great way to capture the memories, so I think that’s a really neat thing. I find that journaling is a great way to work through things that happen in your life. Because it helps you to sort of step away from the emotional aspect of it and look at it objectively. I think journaling is just powerful. I also was a journalist for six years. I worked at four or five different papers.
Q. Finally, what do you want to say to the students and faculty as our new president?
A. It’s my honor to serve. I hope that the lines of communication will be open for us. You’ll find me to be accessible and visible, and I hope that you’ll come up to me and talk to me. Tell me your name, tell me your story. I really want to know.