Oregon State University logo

College to Career – The Leader Within

By Christopher McCracken | HC Student Media Writer

From the classroom to the workforce, the Honors College prepares students for success. Just ask alumna Kari Parker (’15), a professional in industrial engineering and strategic planning.

Kari at Boeing, Portland.

Kari entered the workforce directly after graduating and hasn’t slowed down since. “It took me a few years after college to transition to adulthood,” Kari says, “but once you embrace it, you’ll love it and the Honors College prepares you well for your career.”

Kari works for Boeing in Portland, OR as a manager within their Quality Department. She first started at the company as an engineering intern during her MECOP experience; later, following her graduation from Oregon State, she was hired as a project manager. After four years as a project manager, Kari took her current position.

Kari Parker

At present, however, Kari is serving in a temporary assignment as a First Line Leader. In the role, she directly manages and oversees 15 other employees – each of whom works to inspect parts processed in their facility. “My role is not just one of a manager,” Kari explains, “but I also do a lot of coaching and employee development with the inspectors.”

Kari worked as an Honors College Ambassador and office assistant during her time at Oregon State; there, she learned skills that she continues to apply in her professional life. “My favorite thing about being in the Honors College was working in the office. I really appreciated the opportunity to be an ambassador and meet with prospective students, and I learned a lot about an office environment that prepared me to be a professional in my current career,” she says.

“Understanding different communication styles among coworkers and the ability to listen are key to success in the professional world,” Kari explains. “The classroom alone does not prepare you well for these types of experiences, but an office, retail, or service job will help you begin honing those interpersonal skills. These are vital to success, especially in a technical field!”

In her honors thesis, S(He), Kari wrote and proposed a comedic monologue as a method to raise awareness of current issues and challenges faced by women in STEM, drawing inspiration from both her own experiences and the experiences of others. Kari’s personal background in engineering highlighted the lack of equal representation between men and women in the field; she noted several causes within her thesis, including overly masculine cultures within technical industries, inherent biases among both male and female university faculty, and subtle microaggressions within the workforce, among others.

Kari and her team at Boeing Leadership Conference.

Although Kari still experiences and witnesses many of these issues in her daily life, she appreciates the steps that Boeing has taken to address them. “Sexism is this pervasive issue that I deal with on almost a daily basis,” Kari explains. “However, our culture has come a long way here at Boeing Portland, and we have a newly formed group of Boeing Women in Aviation Manufacturing and another group called Boeing Women in Leadership that is aiding in the conversations with our leaders as to how the culture is and how we can take steps to change it.”

Outside of work, Kari continues to pursue further education, along with enjoying a wide variety of hobbies and interests – many of which relate to her career.

“Right now most of my time outside of work is taken up by studying for my MBA,” Kari explains. “It’s fun to be back in a learning environment with other incredibly intelligent leaders of diverse companies. I am also the founder and leader of the #bossbabesbookclub, which is a book club for professional females in Portland who want to dive deeper into mindfulness leadership techniques.”

“I am still super close with a few of my honors and OSU friends,” Kari says. “Freshman year I was in a room with not one other, not two other, but three other women! First of all, this should be illegal,” Kari laughs. “But sometimes in the difficult times you make the greatest friends. [Being] in the honors dorm, we were all going through similar stresses with similar academic goals and it was a bonding experience like no other. We still have ‘5th floor fam bam’ get-togethers every once in a while.”

Even with her many work, family, and personal commitments, Kari still finds time to get out and serve in her community. “I am extremely passionate about our community here in PDX, especially the homeless and underserved members of our society,” she explains. “I have had many amazing opportunities to volunteer at Night Strike, an event by Because People Matter, where we serve food, distribute clothes, and hang out with the homeless on Thursday nights underneath the Burnside Bridge. This event has taught me how every human, no matter their background or status, just wants to be loved and feel connected.”

“And if I have time beyond that for a quiet moment to myself, you can probably find me at one of the many cozy wine bars or breweries around town, writing poetry or chatting with friends. I’m not busy at all,” Kari laughs.

Kari’s view of the Sunrise from the window seat of a Boeing 737.

Though she currently plans to stay at Boeing and grow her leadership skills, Kari is contemplating alternative pathways for the future of her career. “I think there is a huge market to consult for young executives who want to grow their own businesses and careers,” Kari says. “I think the ultimate goal would be for me to coach leaders on how to be better leaders of their own companies by asking them powerful questions, leading them to see the potential inside themselves, and creating a space to work through their roadblocks.”

Kari’s drive to help others discover their own skills and abilities was inspired in part by her own journey; says Kari, “After undergrad, I went on a sort of journey to find myself. It sounds cheesy, but after spending 23 years of my life, ‘doing what I was supposed to do’ according to expectations of others, I lost the ability (or quite frankly never learned how) to listen to my own soul. For a few years I went on a journey through meditation and mindfulness; I knew who I was deep down, I just had to draw her out.”

“I started to notice a pattern,” Kari remembers. “I would be out with a friend, one-on-one chatting about his or her life, working through the deep stuff, asking questions, and listening to their stories. Holding space for others is something I discovered that I not only enjoyed, but was good at. So I asked myself how I could get paid to do that.”

“Ultimately, whether 2-10 years down the road, I plan to start my own consulting firm as an executive coach,” Kari says. “I really enjoy working with my employees, my peers, and even other leaders in all types of industries to help them better understand themselves, how they can improve, and how they can achieve the impossible in their careers.”

“The trick with the impossible,” Kari says, “and the trick with myself, I learned, is that it is not ‘out there’ somewhere; it’s inside me, inside you, inside all of us. We just sometimes need help listening in.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.