Karen Samonds

Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences

Karen Samonds

Where is your hometown? and where do you live now?
My hometown is Amherst, Massachusetts, and I live in Sycamore, Illinois.

Where did you attend college and what degree(s) have you earned?
I attended the University of Massachusetts (B.A. and B.S.) and Stony Brook University (M.S., M.Phil., Ph.D.).

In which department(s) do you teach?
Biological Sciences

What do you like about working at NIU?
I love my job as director of the master's program in anatomical sciences. Seeing my students go on to successful careers is very gratifying.

What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can while you are attending NIU - there are so many great resources and chances to get involved.

Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you have led.
My research is focused on the origin and evolutionary history of Madagascar’s animals. How, when and from where they arrived has remained a mystery, due to a 65-million-year gap in the fossil record during the time we think they colonized it. My fieldwork aims to fill this critical gap in the paleontological record by searching unexplored areas of Madagascar for Cenozoic fossils.

What do you hope students take away from your class?
My overarching goal in teaching anatomical sciences is to help students understand and appreciate the intricacy of the human body, and to internalize and integrate this knowledge to help them in their future professional training and careers.

What is your favorite campus event?
NIU Earth Week, as it is a great opportunity for students to find out more about environmentally related events on and around the NIU campus. STEMFest is also a big highlight - I am always impressed with the diversity of activities and demonstrations available.

What is your favorite memory of NIU?
Autumn by the lagoon is one of the most beautiful times of year, and I love to see people spending time outdoors and canoeing on the water.

Who has influenced your professional path?
Having great professors and mentors at the University of Massachusetts inspired me to follow the academic path I chose, and it a big reason I feel so committed to providing similar opportunities and mentoring to my own students at NIU.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you currently doing it? If not, what changed your path?
I have always had an interest in animals but didn't know I wanted to be an anatomist/paleontologist until I was a sophomore at university. Having dynamic professors inspired me to change my path.

Are you a member of or hold a position within a professional organization? If so, what organization? What is the purpose of that organization and how does being part of this organization benefit you in your role at NIU?
I have held multiple leadership roles within the NIU chapter of Sigma Xi. This experience helped me to deepen my network of scientists at NIU and appreciate the diverse kinds of research bring done outside of my area of expertise.

What community organizations are you involved in?
Sycamore Sustainability Committee (co-president), North Elementary School Garden Club (lead gardener), Girls on the Run (coach).

What do you do to relax or recharge?
Riding my horse always clears my mind. I also like to do yoga, garden, bike and read.

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