Karen Roth BS ’06

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Karen Roth BS ’06 was in high school, but she still remembers the day her mother made an ordinary telephone call that ended up shifting her daughter’s career aspirations. 

“My mom was speaking with a tech support representative about our computer, and she just had to mention me and how I was interested in programming,” Karen laughs. “The rep said he thought that was pretty cool. Then he told her that software engineering was the next big thing and suggested that I should look into pursuing that.” 

At the time, Karen didn’t know what software engineering was. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, her high school offered only basic computer courses that inexperienced teachers—who were not in the discipline—instructed. After diligent research about the field and looking into some colleges that offered software engineering degree programs, Karen applied to RIT and was accepted on merit and need-based scholarships.

“I fell in love with the campus and possibilities at RIT, and the scholarships were a huge help for my family in keeping costs down,” says Karen. “I remember feeling infinitely lucky to have found a place right for me.” 

As a student, Karen quickly found her passion and her people. Joining RIT’s section of the Society for Women Engineers (SWE) was life-changing for her. 

“SWE was a critical part of finding myself and helping me to grow into who I am today,” Karen explains. “It was incredible to work alongside a community of women in technology. Being a part of the group provided me many opportunities and gave me confidence.”

Participating in co-ops at RIT and traveling to an SWE conference were also significant milestones for Karen during her undergraduate studies. She recalls how the co-ops allowed her to “try out” her field of interest and determine the type of work best suited to her. Her academic endeavors were a cross-college collaboration between the Kate Gleason College of Engineering (KGCOE) and the Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences (GCCIS), and ultimately, the dean of GCCIS used discretionary funds to ensure Karen could travel to a crucial SWE conference. 

It was this special accommodation that influenced Karen’s Sentinel Society membership and decision to allocate her gift to the college’s general fund.

“Having the dean permit the use of college funds to cover the conference costs was remarkable. He knew how important it was for me to be there, and that made a huge impact on me,” Karen shares. “That’s why I’m a Sentinel member. I want to help provide those same types of prospects for students. Every financial contribution makes a difference and can go a long way to help someone. The college unrestricted funds are vital to helping students when the situation arises, just as it was used to help me when I needed it.”

After RIT, Karen went on to earn a master’s degree in systems engineering at Cornell University and an EMBA from Indiana University. She currently works as a deputy director at AFWERX within the United States Air Force. As of July 2024, Karen will assume the position of president for SWE, which she is still largely involved in.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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