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Karen Swift

Karen Van Winkle-Swift was born in upstate New York in 1946. Through adolescence she spent many years in the woods with her maternal grandmother developing a love of nature and learning to chop wood. In addition to the love of biology, her grandmother instilled in her a love of and respect for teaching as a profession.


Not surprisingly, she ended up with a bachelor’s degree in science education from Cornell University. Ironically, it was while teaching eighth grade earth science that she rediscovered the true nature of science and the joy of discovery. She returned to school intending to focus on science education but found herself drawn to original research which led to her receiving a Ph.D. in Zoology from Duke University.


She held teaching/research positions at San Diego State University and Texas A&M, but then found the perfect position at Northern Arizona University. This position provided her with the opportunity to unabashedly express her love for teaching on the same level as research with no embarrassment.


For her teaching and research Karen earned numerous accolades including promotions, awards, and publications that could be listed here, but she felt that these were not the sort of things that defined her and were not what really mattered.


Retirement offered a chance to reunite with nature in a different way (hiking, kayaking, and wood gathering). It also allowed her time to build deeper friendships; friendships that catalyzed discussions of what really matters and why we are here. During this time she also developed a deepened interest in Buddhism and mindfulness meditation. Upon receiving a diagnosis of metastatic ovarian cancer and in making her treatment decisions, she displayed her understanding of the Buddhist teaching that there is a difference between giving up and letting go.


She leaves behind two loving 19 year old cats, four very large goldfish, and 65 houseplants. She requested that there be no memorial service but asked that, in lieu of a remembrance of her, you simply recognize and hug a friend.

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the life of: Karen Van Winkle-Swift
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