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Karen Bruhn retiring after 23 years of service to Barrett, The Honors College at ASU

Photo of Karen Bruhn

After 23 years at Barrett, The Honors College at ASU, Karen Bruhn is retiring this summer.

June 04, 2021

When Karen Bruhn received the 2012 Arizona State University Faculty Achievement Teaching Award for her work as an honors faculty fellow at Barrett, The Honors College at ASU, she said: “I feel really fortunate to be at ASU and be in a position at Barrett where I’m teaching small classes, I really get to know my students and yet I have the resources of a Research I university at my disposal.”

“What motivates me to do what I do? It just feels right. It feels like what I’m doing is what I’m supposed to do. And that’s a very good feeling.”

Bruhn did what she felt was right — teaching and serving in leadership roles at Barrett Honors College — for over two decades. She is retiring this summer after 23 years at the honors college, where she served as an honors faculty fellow, principle lecturer, honors faculty chair and assistant dean. As an honors faculty fellow, she taught more than 1,000 students in Barrett’s signature course — The Human Event — for first-year students. She also taught Barrett Summer Study Abroad and a variety of upper-division classes on religion and culture.

“I came to what was then called the University Honors College right out of graduate school. I felt like I was in the right place at the right time. It was a pleasure to get to teach bright, motivated students for all these years. It has been a great career and exactly what I should have been doing,” said Bruhn, whose last day will be June 30.

While Bruhn departs with her own good memories and good feelings, she is leaving colleagues with very positive sentiments about her too.

“To paraphrase the Ford truck ad: Karen doesn’t just set the bar, she is the bar. She is the bar we all aspire to as the highest-rated teacher at Barrett — and some may reach now since she is retiring. She is the calmest voice of reason whenever Barrett is in turmoil, she showed us all how to be a good faculty chair with a balanced view of Barrett politics, and she is an understanding and encouraging ‘parent-like’ mentor to the younger faculty,” said Mark Jacobs, dean of Barrett, The Honors College and ASU vice provost.

“She has been here for us for all of our careers at Barrett, and the legacy she will leave at the honors college is very simply her example: where the bar is now set for faculty and staff behavior and excellence,” he added.

Ted Humphrey, Barrett, The Honors College founding dean and ASU professor emeritus, hired Bruhn in 1998 and sings her praises to this day.

“Dr. Karen Bruhn came to her teaching and research career via a deep interest in the study of religion," Humphrey said. "Entering the PhD program in religious studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she found her calling and produced an excellent doctoral dissertation that set up her subsequent professorial career. She came to ASU and Barrett an exceptionally well-prepared, humanistically oriented scholar dedicated to teaching undergraduate students, which she did in unusually engaging and creative ways, so much so that she inspired her colleagues to examine their own approaches to the classroom.

“She was more than once selected Barrett’s outstanding instructor, while at the same time publishing high-level research. She has been a quiet but forceful voice in faculty governance. In all, she will be missed by all in the college, students who will not be able to benefit from her learning and wisdom, colleagues who miss her counsel, and administrators and staff who will miss her ability to mediate among the various, sometimes conflicting demands circumstances place on all those who make up the academy."

Mary Ingram-Waters, Barrett faculty chair and honors faculty fellow, said Bruhn is the honors college’s longest-serving faculty member whose influence is keenly felt by her colleagues and students alike.

“She has mentored practically everyone on the faculty and shared her wisdom and pedagogy. She is really good at celebrating her colleagues and giving credit where credit is due,” Ingram-Waters said.

“She inspires students to follow their interests. In The Human Event, she created a culture of support and gave space for students to be creative and intellectually curious,” she added.

Bruhn’s leadership and teaching will not be the only elements of her legacy at the honors college. She and her husband, Doug Ryan, have established a scholarship called the Bruhn Ryan Fund to benefit Barrett, The Honors College students.

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