Syracuse University’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA) was recently created through a merger of the Office of Institutional Research and the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment. The streamlined operation, located at 400 Ostrom Avenue, serves all members…
Celebrating Karen Davis’s Impact and Legacy
Karen Davis’ ’83, G’90 desire to create a welcoming environment for all has permeated every corner of the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS). Building the college’s career services from the ground up and becoming the assistant dean of inclusive excellence, her impact has been cemented into the college’s foundation. As she prepares to step down from her role, she leaves a lasting legacy that champions inclusion, community and empowerment, inspiring hundreds of students to dream big and pursue their goals.
“People ask me, ‘What do you do?’” Davis says. “I tell them ‘break barriers and build bridges.’”
Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Davis loved the close, tight-knit community her neighborhood fostered, but wanted to see what was beyond her home borough. Her parents were rooted in their jobs and had no intentions of moving from the Bronx. “You did what you did, and you stayed where you were. That’s what my parents did. But I wanted to see what else was out there.”
This desire to see the world led her to attend Syracuse University for her undergraduate years. While she attended the University, she also worked full-time to support herself. Davis later realized that this experience was how she would connect with other students with similar backgrounds in her future role.
“There are students who come from where I come from. They are the first and only members of their family to pursue higher education. My experience allowed me to understand their mentality and when you get a sense of connection, these students can trust you,” she says.
When Davis completed her undergraduate degree and MBA at Syracuse University, she received a job at UTC Carrier Corporation. With a background in computer science and programming languages, she started in IT but eventually transitioned into human resources, where she oversaw diversity, equity, inclusion and recruiting. This paved the way for her future career at Syracuse University.
After working at UTC for 15 years, Davis accepted the position as director of career services at ECS and utilized her expertise from her previous work experience to build the program. She introduced the VMock resume platform to the University, expanded the career team by recruiting new staff, organized the first ECS career fair, and leveraged her network to provide students with job opportunities at companies like General Electric.
“When I was in career services, I used to call myself a matchmaker,” Davis says. “I would find the talent and the opportunity to make a match.”
Davis also assisted Senior Talent Acquisition Manager Sharon Cole on the CNY Works Program, which aimed to provide inner-city youth with development skills to build future careers. During the summer, they had about 90 teens working in offices across campus. They led this program for about 10 years.
“I wanted them to gain real experience and skills which could lead to new opportunities,” Davis says. “That’s what being involved with the community is. We are an extension of the community.”
Serving as the college’s director of career services for 14 years, Davis then became assistant dean of inclusive excellence, where she also made a significant impact. Infusing diversity, equity and inclusion into every aspect of the college, including education, research and staffing, the Office of Inclusive Excellence also led student retention programs as well as training and education for faculty, staff and students. Davis also encouraged others to recognize that promoting inclusion is everyone’s responsibility.
“It’s our collective responsibility to foster an inclusive culture. From admissions to marketing, we must ensure it’s everyone’s mission to consider the needs of all students,” she says.
One of Davis’s favorite aspects of her job has been the students, as she has been able to inspire and empower them to make a difference in their own lives and communities.
“Karen played an instrumental role during my development at SU,” says Asia Terry ’12. “She encouraged me to step forward, to come out of my comfort zone and to reach higher than I thought I could. I’m so grateful to have met Karen and for her presence in my formative years.”
“Karen was an important figure in my DEI journey since I was a freshman at Syracuse University,” says Shazif Shaikh ’19. “She’s synonymous with warmth, compassion, kindness and support in my world. She cares about the well-being and success of the people around her with actions taken to uplift them. I have been uplifted by Karen and have sought to do for others what she has done for me.”
As Davis makes her exit from the University, she believes Career Services and the Office of Inclusive Excellence will continue what she started and foster an environment where students, faculty and staff feel welcome and heard.
“It’s always been about impact. Students are the reason we’re here,” she says. “If you get the right message and it reaches the right people, it will grow. When you see it grow, that’s how you know that you’ve had a deep impact.”