Currrent People: Karen Northam

April 1, 2012

Current People

By Sarah Certa ’11

As administrative assistant to the president’s office at Winona State, Karen Northam ’85 has witnessed the university’s evolution from an insider’s perspective. Originally from Dodge, Wisconsin, Northam was a WSU student when she began working in the registrar’s office in 1976. In the midst of earning her bachelor’s degree in business, she says it was a “natural transition” to begin working for then-President Robert DuFresne.

With the retirement of President Judith Ramaley this spring, Northam will have worked for the past five presidents. She knows who loved chocolate and who couldn’t go without a good cup of coffee. She knows that a president’s favorite color quickly turns to purple, and most of all, she’s seen firsthand the pride each has had for the Winona State campus and community.

Physically, the office hasn’t changed much, but when it comes to technology, Northam has seen it all. “From hammering printers and noisy electric typewriters to using laptops and computers with dual monitors; from answering dozens of phone calls per day to now answering even more emails per day, with technology you have to pay attention or move out of the way.”

Despite the challenges of adapting to new technology, switching from quarters to trimesters, from card-registration to online registration – the list goes on – Northam says it’s been rewarding to be a part of the ever-growing WSU community. “Winona State has continued to get better and better, and our campus speaks for itself. It’s beautiful,” she says.

She’s made lifelong friendships outside the office as well as inside, and says it’s not always easy preparing for a president’s retirement. “Cleaning out the bookcases and boxing up the nameplate will be sad. But in the weeks ahead we’ll look forward to many opportunities to thank President Ramaley for all she has brought to our campus, for her leadership, for her contributions not only to WSU but across our system, our state and across the country. And certainly we’ll thank her for her sense of humor.”

Northam says that even though leadership will be changing, Winona State’s strong community will make for a smooth transition. She foresees the incoming president as someone who “will take care to protect our traditions, work to further enhance our reputation, and to share with us wisdom, leadership, and vision for the path ahead.”


About Winona State University

Founded in 1858, Winona State University is a comprehensive public university with more than 8,500 students. The oldest member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, Winona State offers 80 undergraduate, pre-professional, licensure, graduate, and doctorate programs on its three campuses: the original Main Campus in Winona, the West Campus in Winona, and Winona State University-Rochester.

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