New dean at Catawba wants to help students see who they are

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 18, 2013

Kara Ostlund, Catawba’s new associate dean and director of conduct, housing and residence life, says she “wants to be the person who helps show students who they are and the good that they can do.” Ostlund, who joined the college in early June, believes her position will allow her to do just that.
“I’m hard-working. I hold students accountable. I hold high standards,” she explains. “I challenge and support the students to meet those standards, because in doing so they realize the potential in themselves. They don’t realize what they have inside of them and they need to know that people believe in them — it sets them on the road to success.”
Ostlund comes to Catawba with experience from various jobs in residence life at Winthrop University, Middle Tennessee State University and Appalachian State University. Most recently, she worked at Winthrop from 2009-2012 as a residential learning coordinator and an academic associate. These roles gave her responsibility for 300 students in a residence hall, supervision of as many as eight resident assistants and 20 office staff members, and the task of teaching an academic success class to new students.
It was a high school home economics teacher who set Ostlund on her career path in a circuitous sort of way.
“I wanted to be a high school home ec teacher,” she recalls. “I took classes in high school and fell in love with the early development aspect of it. I was teacher cadet in high school and actually took activities to the day care. I wanted to be my high school teacher, Cathy Garrett (who even made it to my wedding), because she was very influential and a great mentor. I wanted to be able to make the same impact on other students’ lives as she had on mine.”
So Ostlund, a Greensboro native, set about researching universities and colleges that offered an academic major in family consumer science.
“That isn’t taught at most universities. I applied to five schools that offered that major and chose Appalachian State in part because I love the mountains.”
She became involved with residence life during her freshman year there, working at the front desk of her residence hall from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m.
“That was my job,” she remembers, laughing. “I needed to pay bills; I had a cell phone I had to pay for — priorities.”
But it was her first-year resident assistant who “got to know me as me, helped me fit in, and shared my name with the person in charge of the building.
“That building supervisor called me and invited me to a human potential retreat. I was one of only 18 individuals — one from each of the 18 residence halls at Appalachian — who was invited. That retreat was for people who have potential to be great leaders but who hadn’t been involved, don’t know how to go about being involved or maybe needed some more training. After it, I was hooked in residence life.”
While she persisted in her academic major, her involvement in residence life continued throughout her undergraduate and graduate school years at Appalachian. She worked as a resident assistant for three of her undergraduate years. She student-taught during the final semester of her senior year and discovered that her career aspirations had changed.
“I didn’t enjoy student teaching as much as I thought I was going to. My passion had evolved into working with college students. I applied my senior year for grad school and luckily got in and was offered a graduate assistantship as a resident director — in charge of a building and all of the students in that building and its staff of RAs. I loved it.”
She says getting her students to have those “ah ha moments” was one of the things she most enjoyed about her work.
“They’re college students, who are learning through their mistakes, and I was able to help them understand the ramifications of their poor decisions and how those decisions impacted the community and what those decisions said about their future.”
Ostlund’s first full time position after graduation was at Middle Tennessee State University. In her two years at Middle Tennessee, she experienced more than most professionals experience in their career. Then, she felt a need to move closer to her family’s home in North Carolina.
She landed a job at Winthrop University and spent three years there, meeting her husband, Neil, who still works at Winthrop as program director for club sports and intramurals. The two were married June 9, 2012.
Although the couple will live in Salisbury with their Treeing Walker Coonhound, Sully, Neil will commute to Rock Hill.
As the Catawba community welcomes Ostlund, she says there are some key things they should know about her, including her food groups — ice cream, pizza, cheeseburgers and French fries — and how she likes to spend her free time — hiking, taking pictures or cheering on those Appalachian State Mountaineers and now those Catawba Indians.