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s Multiple Jobs and Hard Work Pay Off

Woman to Receive Two Degrees From U.Va. on May 20

May 4, 2001-- Bus driver. Activist. Teacher. Karen C. Waters knows persistence and hard work. It has finally paid off for the 37 year old, who, 20 years after her first attempt, will receive her bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in teaching from the University of Virginia on May 20.

To make ends meet while at U.Va., Waters worked multiple jobs, but never let family responsibilities interfere with her academic work. The first in her immediate family to graduate from college, she has a 3.8 GPA. Her husband, Samuel, also will receive a U.Va. degree this month, a doctorate in microbiology. And daughter Kelsey is an honor student in the second grade at Venable Elementary School, where Waters has done volunteer work. In addition to volunteering in several area schools, she has been involved in more than a dozen civic organizations.

"She's been absolutely wonderful and involved in an incredible variety of activities related to life at U.Va. as well as in the community as a whole," said Eleanor Wilson, assistant professor of education in U.Va.'s Curry School of Education. Wilson taught Waters as part of the Piedmont Virginia Community College/U.Va. teaching fellows program.

Waters credits her educational success to supportive teacher, such as Wilson, and to flexible jobs. One such job included a stint as a Jaunt bus driver for elderly and disabled residents on weekends and nights. For safety reasons, Waters donned boyish-looking attire during night shifts as she and her sleeping daughter traveled the city, urban ring and surrounding counties.

Waters is not afraid to stand up for her rights. Although rental fees were waived while she was president of U.Va.'s Housing Association at Copeley Hill, Waters took on the U.Va.

administration to get lead-based paint removed from their buildings. U.Va.'s Office of the Executive Vice President intervened, and the lead-abatement project was successful.

The 20-hour-a-week Copeley job eventually led to a position representing State Sen. Emily Couric at forums and meetings, among other things. Waters' job with Couric ended after the senator withdrew from the race for lieutenant governor last summer.

Like many nontraditional U.Va. students, Waters was hesitant about returning to school because she hadn't done well during a previous attempt at college in 1980. While working at Monticello Area Community Action Agency (MACAA) in Charlottesville, colleagues encouraged her to enroll at Piedmont Virginia Community College. PVCC Professor Pryor Hale took Waters by the hand, introduced her the school's president, and once she took that first leap, it was as if she'd had been hiding her light under a basket.

"Karen can attract people to her view and, at the same time, bring them along with her view," Hale said. "Once she started school she began to shine."

Waters and fellow PVCC transfer student Colleen Higgins were part of the Philip Morris Teaching Partnership program, a collaborative effort between U.Va. and PVCC to train teachers through U.Va.'s five-year master's in teaching program. For her efforts, Waters received U.Va.'s Outstanding Master of Teaching Award in April.

"Karen represents and epitomizes the best of our future teachers," Wilson said. "From the time she began classes, she extended herself in a variety of quiet yet significant ways to help and mentor other students."

While working at U.Va.'s Carter G. Woodson Institute for African and Afro-American Studies, Waters renewed her interest in history. Recently, she received the Albemarle County Historical Society's Rawlings Prize, an annual award that honors outstanding essays on local history. The paper was her senior thesis on residential segregation in Charlottesville in the early 20th century.

As a child Waters lived in public housing. That memory stirred her interest in community involvement. Beginning in 1997 Waters became an advocate for tenants in low-income neighborhoods.

Although it took her 20 years to earn an undergraduate degree, it has been an invaluable experience. "It 's never too late to get an education," she said. "Just because you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel doesn't mean you shouldn't go down it. I am still very much a work in progress and believe my best still lies ahead."

After graduation Waters plans to use her community organization skills and her educational background in an administrative position for a non-profit in the Charlottesville area.

Contact: Katherine Jackson, (804) 924-3629

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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