Hispanic Heritage Month – Member Spotlight

Karen Vargas, Dean of Admissions, Wake Forest University (NC)

Tell us about your journey in the field of education and as an admissions/counseling professional. What are you most proud of accomplishing? 

My passion for college admissions began when I was a student at Haverford College (PA). From tours to overnight programs, I volunteered for it all. Since then, I have worked at a number of wonderful institutions that afforded me tremendous opportunities to learn and grow. I must admit, even when it was challenging and scary to do, I am most proud of embracing change as a Latina in Higher Education. Whether that was changing roles, job responsibilities or institution — I wouldn’t be where I am today without these experiences. Pa’lante y sin mirar hacia atrás!

What are ways in which allies/accomplices in the field have/have not shown up for you? What do you wish you would see more of with respect to support from colleagues in this profession?

I have a number of mentors, colleagues and familia in this profession that I look up to and often seek advice from. I’ve learned in my 17 years as a professional that there are industry leaders who want to see me succeed, and then there are some that don’t — and that’s okay because I’m still here. I look to my mentors when I need a good push to try something new and exciting; they know me better than I know myself on most days. I reach out to my colleagues regularly to brainstorm and discuss opportunities for collaboration and best practices. I’ve also valued having an admissions familia, a group of friends that encourage me to think big and outside of my traditional comfort zone. I’ve learned so much from these groups and now find myself in a position to pay it forward.

We realize this has been a trying year for us all, particularly those of us who are members of the BIPOC community. What continues to affirm your passion for your work and the students you serve? 

I have learned an incredible amount over the past year (my gardening skills are pretty awesome these days!), but my passion for this work is fueled by continuing to fight for equitable policies at my current institution (WFU) and within this profession. As a Latina, I’ve learned the power of asserting my voice, being authentically me and most importantly, helping to pave the way for future colleagues and students within the BIPOC community. In moments of doubt and turmoil, remind yourself que si se puede! Our ancestors fought for our right to be here and it is our responsibility to make them proud.