Karin Douglas '84
Karin Douglas' life could almost read like action-packed novel with all the right elements—adventure, travel, a fascinating career, love and resilience. Douglas' life began in Germany and she came of age during World War II, a tumultuous time period for the world and humankind. "I saw everything," said Douglas ‘84 on a recent late spring evening as she sat in her spacious living room at her Stratford townhouse where she has resided for over forty years. A daughter of an engineer, Douglas would often watch her father tinkering with projects at home and was in awe of his work and technological prowess. Shadowing her father, Douglas gleaned engineering skills in her own right which would underscore her life-long commitment curiosity, scholarship and academic pursuits.
Following her formal education in Germany and Switzerland, Douglas jumped at an opportunity to move to the United States to pursue her career in engineering. She quickly realized that being a woman in the male-dominated field in the 1960s would force her to work harder than her male counterparts, challenge herself, become a wielder of force, and to break barriers. "It was the reality and I knew that I would have to prove myself," said Douglas.
Douglas would go on to marry her now late husband, Robert Douglas, who was also an engineer, and their life was grounded in community and helping others including under-privileged youths.
As Douglas became more settled in her career, she decided heightening her education would be key to her future and in 1980, her hunger for wanting more led her to Sacred Heart University, just miles away from her home. At the urging of her friend and neighbor, the late Evelyn Conley, an attorney and the wife of Sacred Heart's founding president, Dr. William H. Conley, Douglas enrolled in Sacred Heart University's paralegal studies program. "At that time, Sacred Heart was still a fairly young university but the paralegal program was already well-known and very prestigious," said Douglas who attributes her career as a regulatory agency compliance coordinator at ITT Flygt to Sacred Heart's strong legal studies program.
As a non-traditional student, Douglas fell in love with Sacred Heart and its altruistic foundation in serving the greater good and its commitment to feeding not only one's intellect but also the heart.
Earning her degree while working full-time and balancing a life with her husband was no easy task, but Douglas excelled in her studies, she earned honors and graduated Magna Cum Laude. As she looks back on her life and her journey that also included a love for aviation and she became a licensed pilot, Douglas sees her years at Sacred Heart as watershed moments and her education especially learning the notion of serving others were key to her life. Continuing that principle, Douglas decided in order to help the next generation fulfill dreams of education and a career in law, she established a scholarship in honor of her dear friend, Evelyn Conley. Douglas' generosity and hope for the next generation would continue.
1992 was another watershed year for Douglas-she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery and treatment, and another breast cancer surgery in 1998. Her illness and eventual remission spurred Douglas to become an activist and patient advocate by educating others on the effects of Lymphedema-an adverse side effect she developed which typically is caused by the removal or damage to axillary lymph nodes as part of cancer treatment. Douglas would go on to create the Pink Wristband for use in hospitals and a Lymphedema Alert bracelet, distributed as a fundraiser by the National Lymphedema Network (www. lymphnet.org). They provide a way of alerting healthcare providers not to use an at-risk arm for any invasive testing or blood pressure screening and, thus preventing treatment which could cause Lymphedema or worsen an existing condition.
Her illness and advocacy led Douglas to launch another scholarship, named after a special individual who was influential on Douglas --Sister Margaret Palliser, Ph.D., who once served as Sacred Heart's assistant vice president for Mission and Planning for several years, and who also suffered from Lymphedema. The Dr. Margaret Palliser Endowment for Physical Therapy, like the scholarship named for Conley, both aim to help students with a high academic record with financial assistance and underscore Douglas' commitment to scholarship and to the Sacred Heart community.
"Sister Margaret is a dear friend and an example of courage and grace and I thought it was fitting to create a scholarship in her honor," said Douglas.
What are Douglas' words of wisdom for the next generation of students at Sacred Heart? "Make the right plans and set goals, be consistent and don't let anybody deter you from your pursuits."
Douglas continues her quest to help carry on the legacy of learning at Sacred Heart, and has bequeathed a significant part of her estate through the University's planned giving program. "I don't have children of my own but I want to have an impact on the next generation and to give them opportunities," she said.