Professor brings diverse experiences


New this fall to MCLA, Karen Cardozo, Ph.D., an assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies, brings a multi-faceted background not only from the fields she's studied and the positions she's held, but also from the diverse cultures that have influenced and contributed to her life's experience. 

Although her ancestors came from India, Cardozo's grandfathers worked on Zanzibar, an island off the African coast made famous for Arab and other spice traders. After going to medical school in Ireland, her father set up his practice in Kenya, where Cardozo was born. Amidst tensions of decolonization in the 1970s, her father joined a practice in New Hampshire, where Cardozo spent much of her youth.   

This year, Cardozo will introduce three new courses to MCLA, beginning with two this fall - "Rethinking the Third World: Afro/Arab/Asian Connections" and "When East Meets West: Challenging Orientalism."

"Both of those courses take what Vijay Prashad calls a 'polycultural' instead of 'multicultural' approach, as well as the mutual cultural influence and intertwined histories of different groups under globalization," Cardozo said. "There's so much fascinating new scholarship that takes a comparative and transnational approach to revealing the polycultural world we really live in."

This spring, she will teach what she considers her "ultimate dream class," called "The World at Work."

"This interdisciplinary studies course represents the perfect integration of my prior engagements by allowing me to connect interdisciplinary studies to career exploration and leadership development," she explained.  "We will look at different eras and segments of labor organization while also asking humanistic or philosophical questions like, 'What's the difference or relationship between a job, a career, or vocation?'

"This course will explore how students can consider their own fulfillment and what it means to ask such questions in a new and entrepreneurial age where business, science and technology have the most cultural capital," Cardozo continued. "Ultimately, the goal of the course is to get students to situate themselves into this broad landscape of 'the world at work,' and to ponder their rightful place in it."

Cardozo's educational and career journeys are as diverse as the places she's lived. After attending Catholic schools in both Kenya and New Hampshire, she majored in English at Haverford College in Haverford, Pa. She next earned her M.Ed. from Harvard University in higher education administration, planning and social policy, and her Ph.D. in English/American studies from UMASS-Amherst.

"My first job was in career services at Harvard," she explained. "From there I served in several deans roles at Mount Holyoke before teaching as a visiting professor on all campuses of the Five College consortium."

Last year, Cardozo served as the inaugural director of the Career Discovery Program at Williams College. "Never did I imagine in the midst of my 'start-up' at Williams - which went so well - that I would soon find the perfect job for me just down the road at MCLA!"

According to Cardozo, it says a lot that she chose to teach at MCLA after working primarily at elite or research institutions.

"Those institutions have tremendous talent, resources, and have made a significant impact.  But over the years I have learned that elitism can also be a burden that leads to uncritical notions of 'excellence' without sufficient interrogation of ingrained assumptions and practices.  It can be hard to bring change to such institutions.  Furthermore, an emphasis on faculty pedigree and research achievements can sometimes shift the focus away from student needs. 

"MCLA is an unabashedly student-centered institution: students are the raison d'etre for everything we do, and that authorizes faculty and staff to collaborate across divisions in meaningful ways," Cardozo explained. "Its public status means we serve and work to increase educational access for the immediate community, and I really stand behind that effort.

"I find the humility and sincerity of MCLA's mission refreshing and uplifting," she added.  "President Grant's genuine leadership is a big part of the reason why I and so many others have come to MCLA. I am constantly inspired by her vision and the tone of teamwork she sets. Overall, I feel very lucky to be here."