Student Spotlight

Navy veteran’s educational journey inspires fellow graduates

June 14, 2016 by Margo Myers
Karen Bolton

Karen Bolton

For Dr. Karen Bolton, the title is brand new. The professor at Olympic College just earned her Doctor of Education (Ed.D.). in organizational leadership from Brandman University’s Bangor campus.

“It’s almost overwhelming,” said Bolton. “Everything I’ve done for the past year was all about finishing my dissertation, and to have that completed – it’s been an emotional time.”

At Olympic College in Bremerton, Bolton teaches classes in organizational leadership, human relations, leadership and communication, leadership and ethics, and conflict resolution.

“I don’t teach,” she said. “I facilitate. I lead a discussion. When we go around the room and learn about each other’s leadership experience, I find it adds up to a lot of years of experience, and that forms a foundation for great discussions.”

Bolton’s transformational change project for her new degree centered on the creation of a virtual Leadership Center at the college to teach core competencies in:

  • self-awareness
  • collaboration
  • communication
  • social responsibility
  • intercultural awareness

It’s a self-directed program for students in which they perform certain activities and check off competencies. After almost two years, Bolton says student government leaders are adding to it. “It’s doing everything I envisioned,” she said.

Bolton recently delivered the commencement speech at Brandman University’s Bangor campus graduation in Keyport at the Naval Undersea Museum. She shared her personal story about being the youngest of seven children and dropping out of high school before joining the Navy.

She served for 20 years and includes among her achievements being the first female to qualify as a flight deck leading petty officer on the West Coast aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. Bolton eventually earned her GED diploma and went on to get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Bolton’s well-received message to fellow graduates came from her parents and how they inspired her to achieve. Her mother always asked, “What’s next?” She told graduates to celebrate their achievement and then make a plan and keep going.

“I am really honored to have been asked to deliver that speech,” said Bolton. “I had people I didn’t even know come up to me and tell me they will remember me and my speech. That’s phenomenal.”

To borrow a phrase from her mother, one wonders “what’s next” for Bolton. She is working with other faculty members at Olympic to develop a short-term study abroad program in Ireland.

“We recently traveled to Ireland to explore the possibilities,” she said. “It’s a chance for our students to travel abroad, work with students from other countries for a period of two weeks. It opens up possibilities and is something we have to do.”

Outside of the classroom, Bolton says her other goals center on the golf course. She’ll be volunteering at the upcoming 2016 KMPG Women’s PGA Championship at Sahalee, and putting in time to lower her own score.  “I am working to shave 10 strokes off my golf game, but I will admit, it is easier to write a dissertation than lower my golf score.”

This story appeared first in the June edition of FTE Magazine and on Kitsap Sun’s Northwest Navy Life website.

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