Carnegie Mellon News Online Edition: September 27, 2001
Carnegie Mellon News Online Edition
In This Issue
University Rallies to Mourn National Tragedy

Carnegie Mellon Rated "Most Wired," Again

"National Treasure" Robert Page Receives Paul Mellon Professorship of Music

University 23rd in U.S. News' Rating

40-Year-Old Sets Hectic Pace as Freshman and CFA Staff Member

Ferguson Leads Effort to Trap, Neuter and Release Feral Cats

Autonomous Helicopter Called to Assist FBI in Somerset County

Summer Appointments and Accolades

Paul Christiano Remembered

Women's Association Tours PNC Park

Satyanarayanan Heads New Intel Lab

Football Team Collects More than $5,500 for Relief Effort

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fergie 40-Year-Old Sets Hectic Pace as Freshman and CFA Staff Member

At 40, Karen Ferguson, an administrative coordinator in the College of Fine Arts (CFA), has the courage, motivation and energy to do something she's always wanted to do-pursue a bachelor's degree in design. Her desire and perseverance has earned her the distinction of being this year's oldest freshman.

Perhaps life does begin at 40.

Born in Korea, Ferguson moved to northern Virginia when she was seven years old. After graduating from high school, work, marriage and a divorce caused her to delay higher education.

"My personal life took over," she said. "I worked as a restaurant manager and then as an office manager for 10 years. Then I decided to return to school."

At the suggestion of a friend who lives in Pittsburgh, Ferguson began searching the Internet for employment in Pittsburgh while living in the Washington, D.C. area. She said she originally planned to work during the day and attend classes at night, but Carnegie Mellon enabled her to "work and go to school at the same place."

Ferguson joined the CFA Dean's Office in December 1998 and took her first class as a special, non-degree student that summer. The class, taught by Assistant English Professor Kathleen Newman, was called "Elvis" and covered such topics as racism, sexism and life in the 1950s.

"I thought it would be interesting, a good class to get my feet wet," she said. As it turned out, she got more than she bargained for.

"It was a four- or five-week class and we had to read four books and about 300 additional pages of materials. We had a paper due every week. It turned out to be really intensive, but it was an incredible class."

Ferguson continued to take classes and work as an administrative assistant in CFA. She applied to the School of Design in 2000, but lacked an acceptable portfolio and was not admitted. Undeterred, she worked to produce a more refined portfolio and was accepted into the School of Design's Class of 2005.

"I've always enjoyed the creative parts of the jobs I had in the past and tried to incorporate invitations, flyers, brochures and advertisements in the various jobs that I've had. I would like to do that type of work full time."

Ferguson, who has designed invitations, brochures and other materials for CFA, said she doesn't necessarily want to work for a design firm, but she'd like to work as a creative designer, perhaps as a member of a company's in-house design team.

Life is hectic for Ferguson, who spends 14-hour days on campus. She begins each weekday with class from 8:30 11:20 a.m.

"Everyone's been very nice and receptive in the classroom," said Ferguson, who admitted feeling a bit awkward at an orientation luncheon in late August. "I don't think they know how old I really am."

After class she takes a 30-minute break and reports to work at noon. She works till 7:30 p.m. and then it's off to the studio, where she works on assignments and projects with classmates till after 10 p.m. In addition to her work as a student and administrative coordinator, she heads Carnegie Mellon's Trap, Neuter and Release Committee, an environmentally conscious group of volunteers who trap feral (wild) cats (see story).

"I think I can handle it," Ferguson said of her busy schedule. "This is the reason I moved to Pittsburgh. I've been expecting it, looking forward to it.

"The dean's office has been very supportive and flexible with regard to my work schedule. They encouraged me to go into the design program because of some of the work I've done for the office," she said.

CFA Director of Development Chris File said Ferguson has exceptional organizational skills and helps her with "literally everything."

"She handles many of the details for our special events, including all of our design needs," File said. "The dean (Martin Prekop) thinks she does good work and he is our arbiter of good taste in CFA."

File said Ferguson also maintains mailing lists, oversees work-study students and is CFA's ubiquitous support person "willing to help anyone, anytime, anywhere."

"She is the most dedicated, the most cordial and the most detail-oriented assistant that anyone could ever dream of. She's the best in every sense of the word. She's just a wonderful person," File said.

"She's the glue that holds our office together," said Assistant Director of Development Susan Tolmer.

In addition to handling the details for CFA events, Ferguson has also been known to create events of her own. File said she's organized dessert parties and luncheons that feature Ferguson's culinary creations.

With an eye for detail, a knack for design, tasteful culinary skills and the enthusiasm of an 18-year-old freshman, it sounds like Ferguson has the recipe for success . . . even at 40.

Bruce Gerson

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