Those who really know Karen George, University of Findlay’s senior director of advancement, would have a difficult time believing the way she describes her disposition as a young girl. George, known to all she meets as a bubbly, positive, and diligent woman who sets goals and inevitably reaches them, said of the early part of her childhood that she was “painfully shy”; so much so that she rarely spoke at school. “My teachers all liked me, I got good grades, and I was animated enough when I was at home, but I was completely different at school” she said.
That all changed, she explained, when her father was transferred to Singapore for work. Having been raised in Pennsylvania and Indiana up until that point, George hadn’t had a distinct opportunity to blossom. Once there, she met with a guidance counselor from her new school who suggested she take a drama class. Being the wallflower she was, however, she, at first, balked at the idea, but eventually bowed, and, according to her, it changed her life. “I guess I found that performing in shows was an outlet that allowed me to be somebody other than myself. I was so comfortable on stage.” George began performing in multiple productions, emceeing assemblies, and basically another life as a more outgoing person who was open to the idea of putting herself out there.
Fast forward to 2019 and her career with UF. Beginning at the University as director of corporate engagement and individual giving in April of 2017, George’s success led to her new role this past August. She said that, as part of her job, she speaks in front of multiple people frequently, and needs to have a positive outlook about the University and life in general to bring to people. As senior director of advancement, George oversees fundraising and partnership for all of the arts at UF, including UF’s Mazza Museum, where her office is now located. With her new role, she oversees the direction of the Mazza Museum and is handling strategic partnerships for the new Conda STEAM Center, the cutting-edge new addition planned for the Museum’s near future. “It will be very exciting to show people of all ages the way STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math] works through the art of picture books,” she said. Bolstering her position with Mazza is George’s previous eight-year experience in comparable leadership as the corporate relations manager and a member of the leadership team for the Toledo Science Center. “The aspect of my job that largely involves Mazza is a world that I’m very familiar with,” she said. “There are and will be even more hands-on experiences at the Museum similar to those that I’d been a part of before for quite a while. And the staff and docents here help so much and are extremely positive, dedicated, talented, and hardworking. They really make the Museum a success.”
There have been many, what she called “turnkey” moments that have allowed for her to see life as a precious commodity, and the relationships with others that come from a meaningful life and productive career as a natural benefit of that. Two separate moments in particular–one also in her teen years, when her sister’s husband of only ten months was killed in a construction accident, and the other, later in life, when she was involved in a tornado in which her then-eight-year old son, Spencer, made it out of his room right before it destroyed their house and belongings in the middle of the night–had a profound impact on the way she lives life and ultimately made her such a positive asset to UF and the Mazza Museum. “It made me realize what is really the most important going forward,” she said. “It’s people and the relationships you form with them. You just never know.” And it’s that zest for life and forming relationships that has made George such a successful part of the University Advancement team. “It feels like a family here, and that’s what you hear everyone from students to potential donors say when they visit campus,” she continued. “It’s hard not to love what I do, especially with the few enlightening experiences I’ve had to clarify things.”
George said that, overall, her life has been wonderful and that she feels like people go through adversities similar to hers to help others get through difficult circumstances. As she works so diligently to reach her professional goals, it’s not lost on her that she’s working so hard for the benefit of the people who view UF and its Mazza Museum as an important part of their lives, so much so that they call it home.
“That’s what it’s all about,” she said. “If I can be a part of the success of the University and its students, faculty, staff, and alumni, I’ll work as much and as hard as I can to help people reach their philanthropic goals while transforming the University and our students.”