Appreciating Karen Sage

The African Studies Program would like to share our appreciation for Karen Sage. Karen works with both our Program and the Center for East Asian Studies. As an IRIS financial specialist, Karen is responsible for ensuring that all of our students, staff, faculty, and invited guests receive the financial services they need to do their work. Because we work with colleagues on the continent, Karen regularly handles extremely complex international transactions. Her work happens mostly out of sight, as she processes all the payments for our speakers, e-reimbursements for travelers, and other ASP needs.

Karen’s work is behind the scenes but quintessential to our Program’s operations. Most people’s interactions with Karen are brief and seamless, a sign of her efficacy. Unfortunately, in these brief chats, ASP affiliates seldom get a chance to learn just how amazing Karen is and how much we can learn from her story and journey to UW-Madison.

Karen is a native Wisconsinite and did her undergrad at UW-Oshkosh, where she double-majored in English and International Studies with an emphasis on Eastern Europe, and took two years of Russian language. She honed her interest in global engagement because of her family’s continual attention to current events and the value her parents placed on learning from different groups of people. During her undergrad study, Karen worked for the U.S. Postal Service, simultaneously attending classes during the day and working full-time in the evenings.

After twenty years in the postal service, Karen quit to fulfill a childhood dream to join the Peace Corps. When she entered as a volunteer, Karen was assigned to teach English in Albania, working mainly with high-school students. After returning to the U.S., she worked in contract and financial management in Washington D.C., first at Peace Corps Headquarters and then at the Department of Labor.

Karen’s interest in returning to Wisconsin and her financial management background led her to UW-Madison, where she has been since January 2019. Karen explains that part of what drew her to this field was the detail-oriented nature of the work. Pre-COVID, Karen oversaw payments for traveling speakers and, more recently, virtual events. She appreciates her responsibility to ensure accuracy and timeliness, and enjoys problem-solving and collaborating with colleagues to make the process go smoothly for event speakers.

In her financial specialist position, Karen has learned about visa types, tax documentation, and university policies. “There’s a unique job-learning experience in universities that is different from other sectors,” she shares. However, what Karen enjoys about her position most of all is the people she meets. Pre-COVID, it was not uncommon for Karen to escort speakers, who would rather deliver information or documents in person, to the appropriate campus buildings. On these walks, Karen learned about “so many different people and all the important and diverse work they do.” From event speakers to YALI fellows, Karen savors what she can learn from another human, “even in a brief fifteen minutes.”

According to Aleia McCord,

African Studies Program handed Karen a newly discovered administrative puzzle upon her arrival. Two months after Karen arrived, one of the sponsors of our program asked that UW-Madison identify a mechanism that would allow the university to pay the 25 visiting African leaders immediately upon arrival. Karen was thrust in the position of working with campus business services to develop and pilot an entirely novel financial product. Karen’s attention to detail; prompt and diligent follow-up; and courteous, professional demeanor reflects positively on our unit and the university as a whole.

Beyond her astuteness, responsibility, and excellent communication skills, Karen is most of all thoughtful. She is the type of person who people can only say kind things about. Karen makes her colleagues’ jobs easier and she’s a pleasure to get to know. Thank you, Karen, for your invaluable work and support of ASP.

By Carly Lucas and Aleia McCord