Dayton, Ohio native Katie Karnehm chose IWU for two major reasons: its writing major and its atmosphere, which was more relaxed than her ultraconservative high school. “I appreciated not having an attitude of legalism at IWU,” Dr. Karnehm explains.
After briefly considering triple majoring in writing, art, and psychology, she shifted her focus to a writing major, art minor, and membership in the John Wesley Honors College (JWHC). Most writing majors studied English as well, but Katie refused. She had no ambitions to become a teacher.
Following her graduation in 2002, Katie moved to Scotland to attend University of St. Andrews’ graduate program. Her time at IWU prepared her for living abroad: as a sophomore she visited Scotland and England, which motivated her to study at Oxford during her senior year.
Katie is also grateful for the Dr. Brown and the JWHC. “Just good wasn’t good enough,” she says. “That prepared me for being a good writer and being able to take criticism.”
Although she wanted to live in London after completing her graduate work, those plans fell through. She instead applied for a job as a composition professor at IWU. Her first year at IWU surprised Katie: she actually liked teaching.
She returned to St. Andrews in the fall and received her doctorate in 2008. A teaching position had just opened at IWU – ironically, the same job she left four years prior. Dr. Karnehm has been teaching English and writing courses here for the past seven years.
Of IWU, Dr. Karnehm now says, “I thought this community was worth coming back [to]. I love the people I work with.” She also enjoys her students. Over the last three years, Dr. Karnehm has seen an increase in the number of students who open up to her as a mentor. “I can see writing and being in a community of people as a healing process for those students,” she says.
Returning to IWU wasn’t struggle-free. In her liberal-minded community at St. Andrews, Dr. Karnehm was considered a conservative. When she came back to the U.S., people thought she was a liberal. “When I started in 2008, there was a two-week hubbub over [another professor] and me having our noses pierced,” Dr. Karnehm recalls.
It wasn’t just the piercings. She adds, “I didn’t know how to fit into my culture anymore. But [Dr. Brown] was my division chair … and she told me, ‘Sometimes being uncomfortable in a place can be a blessing.’ That stuck with me.” In the time since, Dr. Karnehm has tried to give similar encouragement to her students who struggle to fit into a particular culture. She has particularly done this through her work with the Global Engagement Office.
Dr. Karnehm loves watching her students transform and grow as well: “I’m really inspired by [them] because they show up as freshmen, and you don’t know where they’re going to go or what beliefs they’re going to stick with. Then by their junior or senior year they’ve started to figure things out.”
She is constantly amazed by what her students area capable of. “IWU, and especially our English program, has always attracted students who have a lot of ability and don’t necessarily know it yet,” she explains. Watching her students blossom is what inspires Dr. Karnehm to keep growing as a writer and a professor.
Written by Megan Emily. Megan is a senior English/Writing major and member of the John Wesley Honors College. She operates a blog about finding hope and security.