Karen Pridgen encourages openness to change
Seventeen miles south of Gainesville and a stone’s throw from U.S. 441, Vecchio’s neighborhood Italian restaurant wafts the sweet scent of tomato sauce and roasted garlic between paint-chipped Victorian mansions hand-built in the 1890s and 100-foot Spanish-moss-strewn oaks – even older – and planted, too, by hand.
It’s 1982, and Karen Pridgen is just shy of 20 years old. Here, in small-town Micanopy, Florida, Karen feels the gentle pull of change, redirecting her life.
Change: the subtle weight-shift and muted jangle in the hostess’s apron reminding her that restaurant work, fun as it is, won’t provide for her newborn daughter, let alone her future dreams. And change: the unplanned life-force that, once embraced, begins pulling Karen toward the present moment.
Ideas, like oak trees, begin the size of a seed and grow beyond one’s imagination. Karen’s uncle, Pet – a Slavic name shortened to the great appreciation of family and friends – planted such a seed, suggesting that Karen consider computers for a career.
Thirty-five years and a lifetime of learning and achievement later, Karen is one of the University of Florida’s longest-tenured staff and one of its foremost experts on the subject of student information systems.
Karen heads the Campus Community team for COMPASS (Campus-wide Modernization Program to Advance Student Services), and her team is largely responsible for managing student biographic and demographic data and service indicators, as well as ensuring that UF maintains and evaluates proper SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) reporting and immunization compliance.
Karen likens Campus Community to a COMPASS Student Information System hub from which other teams draw and use information needed for their own functionalities. The Student Records, Student Financials, Admissions and Financial Aid teams all rely on information provided by Campus Community, as do on-campus units like the University of Florida International Center and the Student Health Care Center.
“The features and functions of Campus Community are shared by all of the functionality in PeopleSoft – it’s really the glue that holds together all of the system functionality,” said UF COMPASS SIS Project Director Jim Freymann. “Karen was an obvious choice for this project because of her extensive background and knowledge in the SIS system, but also her ability to lead and her experience in leadership.”
Understanding the many elements and moving pieces of UF’s student information systems, foundational knowledge for the Campus Community team, requires leadership and experience for which Karen is uniquely qualified.
Since 1984, she has worked continuously at UF, beginning as a senior clerk in the Department of Pediatrics. Soon thereafter, she began programming and software support work on student systems, working for a number of UF offices and units, including the Office of the Chief Information Officer, Enterprise Systems and Shands Hospital’s IT Development Office.
Karen joined COMPASS in early 2016 from her role as IT resource manager of Student Information Systems, which she has served as since 2004. In her more than 30 years at UF, she has been involved with a number of previous projects and systems implementations, including a PeopleSoft implementation, and brings those experiences and lessons to COMPASS.
“Today we can look at PeopleSoft in a way that it has really matured from the first time we implemented it,” Karen said. “And since then, they’ve merged with Oracle, and the product has matured quite a bit.”
Karen says she enjoys the creativity involved in working on implementations and projects, and she advises those she manages to scrutinize and question current business processes, with the aim of improving and refining how they’re accomplished.
“I know a lot of times you want to hang your hat on ‘this is how we do it,’ and you may have to customize or change your way of thought,” Karen said. “The best advice I can give is: be open to change. That’s a life philosophy more so than anything.”
And change, in one form or another, continues to be a current in Karen’s life. She recently remarried and moved from her longtime home in Worthington Springs to Gainesville proper. She and her husband, Tom, have begun exploring the country by motorcycle for short trips and by 38-foot camper for longer ones.
“I am a nature lover. I like to spend time outside. I do bike riding or hiking or gardening in my yard. We also have a boat and go out on the river quite a bit. Tom’s a fisherman, and I read a book while he fishes. We spend a lot of time out on the water.”
COMPASS as a distinct project will largely end in 2019, but Karen says she hopes to continue working with student information systems in the future.
“I can’t really say where I‘ll land, but I have a passion for this doing this type of work. It’s invigorating, so I definitely want to continue to be a part of it.”