Penn State Outreach and Online Education names new diversity leader

October 28, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Outreach and Online Education has named Penn State World Campus career counselor and diversity programmer Karen Armstrong to its Strategic Leadership Team as director of inclusion, equity and diversity.

Armstrong has experience working with higher education leaders to help implement and expand inclusion, equity and diversity throughout campus organizational structures, policies, strategic plans and programs.

Headshot of Karen Armstrong

Penn State World Campus career counselor and diversity programmer Karen Armstrong has been named to Outreach and Online Education's Strategic Leadership Team as director of inclusion, equity and diversity.

IMAGE: Penn State

Armstrong has been with World Campus since 2016, and previously served as counselor coordinator at Florida State College at Jacksonville. She is a clinically trained multicultural, LGBTQA+, disability and special populations counselor with extensive experience in higher education programming and professional development for faculty, staff and students. She begins her new position Nov. 12.

As director of inclusion, equity and diversity, a new position, Armstrong said she has two main goals: to foster a sense of belonging among OOE employees and to teach and demonstrate allyship.

“A lot of us support one another and don’t know how to show it,” she said. “For many people it’s not convincing them that allyship is important, it’s how to do it — how to demonstrate that we are a community and that we care for each other.”

“I am delighted that Karen Armstrong has agreed to join our leadership team,” said Tracey Huston, vice president for Outreach. “Her deep knowledge and broad expertise will assist us in advancing inclusion and diversity in our workplaces and with the audiences we support, through open discourse, mutual respect, genuine care, equal opportunity and the expression of different perspectives.

Renata Engel, vice provost for Online Education, said Armstrong’s “experience, knowledge and expertise, coupled with her commitment to the university’s efforts to incorporate inclusion, equity and diversity into the breadth of its operations, is a powerful combination that will make a difference in the work of Outreach and Online Education.”

Armstrong said she is excited by OOE leadership’s strong support for creating a culture of inclusiveness and for expanding the diversity talent acquisition and programming strategies.

“This is absolutely something that they support,” she said. “They want to create an environment of belonging. This is something that we can make happen.”

To help foster a sense of community and belonging in the workplace, Armstrong plans to create affinity groups — some based on identity and others on shared interests such as gardening or travel.

“I’m an African-American, I’m a woman, and I’m a disability advocate,” she said. “However there are other affinity groups I belong to beyond that. If we both love to garden — maybe you have a conversation with me you wouldn’t have had if we didn’t talk about gardening.”

It’s important to have both kinds of affinity groups, Armstrong said. Differences among employees are important to recognize, but so are similarities, she said. And talking about those similarities makes it easier to talk about allyship.

“We forget to stop and take a look at how we’re the same,” she said. “It brings us together, instead of just focusing on those things that seem different.”

Armstrong said she looks forward to working with the OOE leadership team on a strategic vision and plan for diversity and inclusion and to hearing from employees about how to create a more inclusive environment.

“I need to know the employee perspective — and I’m eager to know it,” she said. “When you become more inclusive, you create an environment where people thrive and are more creative.”

“This isn’t just for a certain group of employees,” she added. “It’s not for others — it’s for you. I want everyone to reach out to me. As a counselor, I’ve always had an open-door philosophy. I use that same approach in the virtual space.  Let’s build those relationships. It’s for you — there’s no exception to that.”

Armstrong is a graduate of Hofstra University with a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Bridgeport. At Penn State, she has served as a bias intervention facilitator and is co-chair of the University-wide Diversability Committee focused on professional development for faculty and staff. She also serves as the identity, equity and diversity higher education content expert for the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Last Updated October 28, 2020