For Karen Sieve, of St. Peters, the entry point to higher education was a community college seminar on “Women in Transition” in 1988, just two years after the college was established. Married right out of high school and the mother of three, Sieve said she was successful in several jobs but never had a “career track” focus that would lead to truly meaningful work.
Growing up in a family whose lives were touched by her father’s mental illness and struggling with her own attention deficit disorder (ADD), Sieve never dreamed she was college material.
With new-found confidence following the “Women in Transition” class, she took a computer course in 1989 and was amazed she was able to learn five software programs in just a few months. While working in a temp agency job, she took a business course in 1992, then, with the help of a scholarship she returned to the community college full time the following year.
In the meantime, she developed college and community contacts that both inspired her and helped her begin to define her career interests. She worked for a local chamber of commerce and as a constituent services representative for a U.S. congresswoman. She served as a legislative intern for the St. Louis Breast Cancer Coalition and continued to develop working relationships with community leaders, civic organizations, and advocacy groups.
At SCC, Sieve exemplified the college’s mission to provide life-changing opportunities for personal growth and professional success.
“I reached out for help, and the faculty and staff were so encouraging and welcoming. I used the college’s learning center, computer lab, and counseling assistance, and I soon became more focused. I learned there is a world of opportunity out there. “I began to see that through my own personal experience and opportunities, I could make a difference in others’ lives. This inspired me to advocate for others to have those same opportunities – to use my voice in a way that makes a positive difference.”
Sieve has been making a positive difference in the community for more than two decades. A transfer student who earned 61 credit hours at SCC, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science, with honors, and a master’s degree in public policy administration, both from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Upon graduating, she briefly served as a litigation support specialist with the John Danforth Office of Special Council-Waco Investigation where she did legal research and achieved “top secret” government clearance.
Then, focusing on issues that shaped her true passion, Sieve became a public education specialist for the local Partnership With Families and Putting Kids First project. Later, as project director for Healthy Communities of St. Charles County from 2002 through 2005, she led and coordinated community mental health, suicide prevention, and anti-drug coalition activities, partnering with local school districts to help students make good choices and become productive citizens.
Currently, in her work at Bridgeway Counseling, Sieve collaborates with schools, agencies, law enforcement, and families to help make quality treatment and support services available for adolescents and their families. She is a member of the St. Charles Regional School/Business Partnership and the Citizens for Missouri Children Policy and Program Committee. In addition, she has served on the St. Charles County Domestic Violence Board, the Tri-County Citizens Advisory Board to Probation/Parole of the Missouri Department of Corrections, and the Missouri Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education and Mental Health Shared Agenda Grant Subcommittee. She is a graduate of the VISION St. Charles County Leadership Program, LeadershipPlenty, and the Coro Women in Leadership Program.
In April 2006, Sieve learned she would receive the Community Builder Award from the Community Council of St. Charles County at an event in May.
“Because of her determination, coupled with expertise, skills, knowledge, and passion, Karen is an asset to any group or project for which she is involved,” said Betty Murr, deputy director of the St. Charles City-County Library District, who nominated Sieve for the alumni award. “This is a better community for all of us because of her,” Murr said.
For Sieve, it’s all part of a journey of self discovery. “A career is not a destination; it’s a pathway. I always felt I had more questions than answers, but today I am blessed to be in a position to give back. I have tried to use each life experience to hone my skills for connecting people with resources so that I can make a difference in their lives,” she said.
Sieve has advice for others who may not yet have discovered their own purpose and gifts. “We don’t always know at an early age what we want to be. Keep your eyes open to opportunities, and reach out when help is offered.” She says the local community shines when everyone works together to help those in need – health and human services, law enforcement, faith community, schools, courts, and education – putting aside their differences to improve the quality of life.
And as for individuals who may fear returning to school, Sieve says: “Pace yourself. It’s not a race. The community college is here to give everyone affordable access to higher education, so don’t pass up the opportunity. Embrace it.”
Sieve said courage and empowerment were instilled in her when she took that first step into the halls of higher education. It all started with a “Women in Transition” class at the local community college.
“Transitions are a part of life,” Sieve said. A part of life that has made all the difference.