Kari Shafenberg: Making a difference behind the scenes

Woman with medium brown hair and man with glasses standing in front of a concert stageIf there’s one thing Kari Shafenberg has learned in her professional life, it’s to embrace her invisibility. By day, Kari is an associate registrar for the University of Colorado Denver and the Anschutz Medical Campus. When she can carve out some free time, she also edits for Dragonfly. And though they might not seem to have much in common, both jobs require important behind-the-scenes work to achieve success. In both cases, she says, “If you’re doing it well, nobody knows you were ever there.”

Kari does all her jobs while based in Aurora, Colorado, just outside Denver. It’s an area she loves, and she has plenty of other home bases to compare it to. An Army brat, Kari grew up in Kansas, Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Maryland, New York, Hawaii, and Colorado. The third of six children, she attended 10 different schools as a youngster. Through all that upheaval, books were her constant. “When I was a kid and we moved around so much, I had a hard time making friends, but one of the first things I did at every new school was find the library and get to know the librarian. I was that kid who would stay up way past bedtime under the blanket with a flashlight, reading.”

It came as no surprise, then, that Kari initially had her sights set on becoming a high school English teacher. But as she pursued her bachelor’s degree from Western State College (now Western Colorado University) in tiny Gunnison, Colorado, she had a change of heart. “I loved the content, but I had four different high schools altogether because of moving so much, and high school was pretty traumatic,” she recalled. “When I started having to go back into classrooms for student teaching, I realized I didn’t want to relive high school for the rest of my life.” So she changed her major from education to literature, a decision that didn’t exactly thrill her parents. “There was a lot of, ‘Great! You’ll have the nicest sign of any of the homeless people on your block,’ or ‘You’ll have the best grammar of any waitress at your restaurant.’” She persevered, though, and worked her way through several editing jobs to her current career in higher education.

Her first job was for LexisNexis, editing legal documents for the California Court of Opinions. “I loved editing for Lexis, but because I was editing court opinions, some of what I was working on was pretty graphic,” she said. “I was 22 and fragile, and I had two cases that were bad enough that in the middle of the day I had to go to my boss and say I needed to go home.”

In search of less traumatic material to edit, she got her first taste of working in higher education when she took a position at Colorado College. She then edited for ITT for about a year and a half until the recession hit, and she was laid off. It was then that she found a job—and her niche—as an assistant registrar for an online university in Denver. “I really loved working in higher ed, and it sort of changed the trajectory of my career at that point,” she said. “I liked it so much that I went on to get a master’s degree in adult learning and training from an online school called Trident International University, and I have been consistently in higher ed for the last seven or eight years now.”

You’re a what?

Kari enjoys her work as a registrar, even if few people really understand what a registrar does. “Generally speaking, a registrar is responsible for the completion and care of the student academic records—so grades, transcripts, graduation, meeting degree requirements. Any kind of paperwork that a student ever needs at some point goes through the registrar’s office,” she explained. “Most of the time, if things are going well, they don’t even know that you exist.”

There are times, though, when students most definitely know that Kari exists. “I’ve found that a big part of being in the registrar’s office is having to have very difficult conversations with students. If a student thinks they’re graduating but there’s a requirement missing, they usually get that conversation from me,” she said. “I’ve had to give a lot of hugs in my career. I’ve had a lot of tears. I’ve had a few students who screamed at me. It’s an emotional job, but I really like it. Someone once told me that no little girl grows up dreaming of becoming a registrar. That’s true, but that’s just because they don’t know it exists.”

Kari still enjoys editing, though, which is where Dragonfly comes in. She started freelancing for Dragonfly about three years ago, referred to the company by a former LexisNexis co-worker, and has found it a good fit for her busy life.

“I love the flexibility of it,” she said. “I also have really loved working with the people that I’ve gotten to know. Whenever I get to do a project with other people, it’s nice that even though everyone’s spread out, there’s still a sense of community. I also love the variety of work that we get to look at.”

She particularly enjoyed an assignment last summer where she worked with a Colorado company that was developing climate change initiatives related to air conditioners. And she’s about to review another client’s PhD dissertation, an interesting task for someone who’s working toward her own doctor of education degree at the University of Denver. “I’m a little while from my dissertation, so it’s comforting to know that people do eventually finish,” she said.

Home sweet home

Kari occupies her little corner of Colorado with her husband of six years, Levi, and their almost 5-year-old son and superhero/sidekick a giant pop-tart with purple frostingaficionado, Henry. Levi’s 10-year-old daughter, Eleanor, is also an important part of the family, spending summers and some holiday time with them.

With kindergarten looming for Henry, Kari is planning for the future. Specifically, she’s planning on taking May 24 off to attend his pre-K graduation, “and then I’m going to be a weepy mess the rest of the day.”

In what little spare time she has, Kari enjoys cooking, even if it’s just watching someone else do it. She says she watches all of the cooking shows she can, but The Great British Bake Off is her favorite. “I watch it all the time. It’s my white noise. If I can’t fall asleep or if I’m stressed out, I turn on Bake Off in the background. They’re making cakes, and they’re all being polite and nice to each other, and they have beautiful accents, and it just soothes me.”

a 3 tiered cake with white fondant and various fall leaves and a moose cake topperIn her own kitchen, she makes a mean homemade pop tart, and she even baked her own three-tier wedding cake. (Levi, a prepress specialist for a print shop in town, did the decorating, including handmade leaves for the fall-themed creation.) But it’s not all about the sweet stuff. A few years ago, Kari came in third in a chili cookoff. (Her secret ingredient is cocoa powder, so maybe it is all about the sweet stuff.) “I call it my nearly award-winning chili,” she laughed. “I didn’t realize that everybody else was going to bring all of their friends to vote for their chili because it was just me and Levi and Henry. If I had known that you could bring a bunch of people I totally would have won.”

Moms matter

When she’s not registraring, editing, working on her PhD, raising a family, or baking, Kari enjoys a good book, family movie night, or a unique dinner out (something she wouldn’t make at home) followed by a play or musical. This time of year, she’s also busy with a special project she manages each spring.

“For the last seven or eight years, I have worked with local domestic violence shelters in the Denver and Colorado Springs area, and every Mother’s Day I deliver gift baskets to the shelters,” she said. As Mother’s Day approaches, she collects donations of things like makeup, jewelry, and bath supplies, careful to avoid things like toothpaste, toothbrushes, or deodorant and instead focusing on items you give your own mother. The donations then become part of individual gifts “so that any woman who is in the shelter on Mother’s Day can be given a basket and be told that somebody still values her and somebody thinks that she deserves better,” Kari said. Last year, she and her fellow volunteers donated 125 baskets to two shelters.

It’s a project her mom started when Kari was in sixth grade, back when she had trouble making friends and long before she could envision the idyllic life she and Levi have created in Colorado. If she could tell that younger version of herself one thing, she’d tell her to hang in there. “We have so many moments when we think that we’re just on the wrong path or that we’re missing the boat. And it’ll sound cheesy, but I’m so happy with my life,” she said. “I would love to just be able to tell my younger self, you’ve got this. You’re on the right path. You know yourself. Continue to have faith that you’re making the right choices for yourself. I think it’s so easy to question that, but I feel like sticking to my guns really worked out.”

 

This post was written by Kathryn Flynn, an editor at Dragonfly Editorial. 

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