A La Porte County Life in the Spotlight: Karen Schmid

By: Paige Pope Last Updated: January 15, 2014

karen-articleKaren Schmid has combined a broad perspective with a personal touch that has taken Purdue University North Central to new levels of student enrollment, rigor, and academics. She tapped into the institution’s potential and since then has been making strides to benefit the staff, students, and community.

Born in Kokomo, Indiana, Schmid grew up in motion. She attended elementary school in her hometown; she attended junior high in Ohio and high school in Minnesota. She then attended the University of Minnesota where she earned her bachelor's degree and PhD in Family Social Science.

Schmid then taught at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University in Minnesota for six years, and then worked at Westchester University in Pennsylvania.

Next, she spent eight years at Indiana State University. Her position at Purdue North Central as Professor and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs came as a happy surprise. From day one, Schmid very much appreciated PNC and La Porte County.

“I very much like the idea of working for Purdue and living in this area. It is just a great combination. My husband and I love the lake, the countryside, and farms but at the same time you are close to Chicago. It is just a great place to live,” she said.

Schmid currently serves as a Professor of Social Sciences at PNC. “I have always been interested in human beings and their environment, especially how human beings develop and grow. I love teaching about the life span. It is very broad and never boring,” she explained.

But Schmid’s employment goes beyond that of a professor. Schmid wears another very large hat and is the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at PNC. This job covers even more ground and there is never a dull moment.

“I work with anything that has to do with academics. I work with faculty, academic departments, administrators, the career development center, learning and technology offices, institutional research, service learning, It is all very interesting to me; I enjoy working with a variety of faculty.”

Schmid has managed to handle her varied workload and has implemented impressive changes. First and foremost her handiwork is evident in the multiple new majors that are offered including three new engineering programs, history, health studies, social work, and psychology. Schmid noted that these new degrees have attracted an influx of new students of a high academic caliber. 

“In the future I plan on adding more baccalaureate degrees and working with the faculty to ensure our caliber level is high. I also want to work with our Career Development Office to make sure more students are engaged in planning their careers.”

Schmid would not have been able to do important things at PNC had she not truly believed in the school. She explained, “I really believe in the land grant mission of Purdue. I strongly believe in that approach to education which emphasizes improving the quality of life in your state and your region while serving a broad range of students.”

Schmid truly values the PNC students and considers them a favorite component of her position. The student body is varied, but there are some commonalities Schmid notices: the students are all extremely hard working, enjoy giving back to the community, and plan to stay in this area. This is also where Schmid has found her most difficult challenges, but it is not due to student behavior. Schmid wishes the university had more scholarship money to offer the determined students. What more, many students are not able to graduate on time due to the outside jobs they must hold to support themselves.

“It just breaks your heart when students have to work so many hours. It makes it very difficult to complete their programs. My biggest challenge is keeping students focused on their education to complete their degree.”

Schmid’s time as Vice Chancellor has not just been about teaching, but about learning. She has learned about the Northwest Indiana area, Purdue, and the difficult art of patience.

Outside of her responsibilities at PNC, Schmid enjoys spending time with her grown children, granddaughter, and husband. Additionally she enjoys travel, hiking, and reading. She also serves on the Board of Directors of La Porte County United Way, and takes on another educational role by serving on the Board of Directors for St. Mary-Of –The-Woods College.

Schmid’s outlook on PNC’s future is bright. She foresees more internship opportunities, study abroad ventures, and an integration of a Purdue system shared by all four schools. The campus is already building a new facility dedicated to student services and activities that will open up additional space for the expanding student body.

At the end of the day, Schmid works to give back to her students a phenomenal education. For this article she doled out advice to any college students, “Stay focused, make education your number one priority, live like a poor college kid, and keep your eyes on the prize.”