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Alumna’s Love of Knowledge Powers Future Opportunities

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woman in cap and gown at graduation
Karin A. Akerson, CAS/BSG ’96

American University received an extraordinary $2 million gift to create and endow the Karin A. Akerson Memorial Scholarship Fund. The scholarship fund empowers students to pursue academic dreams at AU and reduces financial barriers.

Karin Akerson, CAS/BGS ’96, was a proud alumna of American University. With her intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge she felt right at home at AU.

Karin began her college studies at Middlebury College. She was a student in 1971 when she met Daniel Akerson in Italy while he was on shore leave from the Navy—the two married soon after. Karin paused her studies to raise their family amid Dan’s naval career. In their 46-year marriage the Akersons lived around the world as they raised their three children. “Family was paramount to our mom, but she always valued education. She emphasized it to us growing up,” says her daughter Gretchen Akerson. 

Karin dove back into her degree with zest when her children were older. During her life, Karin worked in numerous jobs, including as a librarian and as a docent at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. She was eager to bring her vast experience to higher education. She chose AU because the university values nontraditional students. “American offered so much opportunity to a student like my mom, says daughter Gretchen. “It was a gift to come back to school and she embraced it because she knew what an important thing it was to have a BA.”

“We would study together at the kitchen table when I was in high school,” remembers Yancey. Karin would share stories of her lectures and the two bonded over exam prep. Karin would tape record her lectures, listen, and augment her class notes. “I was in awe of her dedication,” Yancey says. “She’s one of the reasons I became a teacher—because she herself was an amazing teacher.” 

Karin’s hard work paid off with a Phi Beta Kappa key and an AU bachelor’s degree. “I think I was more excited for her graduation than my own. I was so proud of her,” shares Gretchen. “We all came to the ceremony and took lots of pictures with her in her cap and gown. It was a big day.”

Because she treasured her AU experience and the power of education, Karin and Dan made estate plans to endow a transformative $2 million scholarship. When Karin passed away in March 2018, Dan honored her memory by advancing their shared plan and establishing the scholarship fund now to make an immediate impact. 

“My parents always believed in the value of education—it has the power to transform and shape a life,” Gretchen says. 

The family’s choice to endow the Karin A. Akerson Memorial Scholarship bridges love for alma mater with the family’s Blue Earth Foundation mission to fund educational access. This dovetails with AU’s dedicated efforts to decrease the financial challenges of education. The scholarship becomes a significant part of the wide network of support at AU to ensure students will thrive and achieve their full potential, regardless of their economic background. Generations of students will benefit from Karin’s vision and the family’s generosity.

Karin’s legacy has already touched inaugural scholarship recipient, Ingrid Schoonover, CAS/BS ’22. Schoonover was so sure AU was the right fit that she applied early decision. “AU is at the hub of the world. I wanted to access mentors and internships. I am a biology major and want to study snakes; the Smithsonian is nearby and is a world leader in conservation,” she says. 

Schoonover has a long-time love of reptiles. “My parents brought me to a reptile show when I was four years old. Then, all I wanted for my fifth birthday was a pet snake.” Schoonover received that birthday present. She currently has a pet boa constrictor and a gecko. As a high schooler she wrote essays on animals to post on social media. 

Schoonover has embraced student life at AU. “Professors want to see you succeed and they push you. It’s a good challenge,” she says. “I like the small classes and the interaction with peers. I love working in the lab; I’m a very hands-on person. We can design our own projects and have all the supplies needed to make it happen.”

But Schoonover’s AU studies were in jeopardy when her mother’s health crisis changed the family’s financial circumstances. The West Long Branch, New Jersey, native thought she would have to drop out of school—until she was awarded the Karin A. Akerson Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship will allow Schoonover to complete her studies, including her opportunity this fall to intern with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Schoonover is a visitor educator with the Friends of the National Zoo, part of a cadre of trained volunteers researching new methods to convey information on animal habitats. “Eventually I want to go into research,” Schoonover says.

“The scholarship has lifted such a large burden off my shoulders,” Schoonover says. “After I have a job, I’m going to make a gift to help someone else at AU. I’d like to make an impact.”

The American University community is strengthened by Karin Akerson’s close association and the family’s commitment to honor her strong belief in the power of education. The endowed scholarship makes certain an AU education is accessible, attainable, and affordable. Gifted, hard-working students gain the needed resources to pursue valuable educational opportunities at AU. As a result of the Akersons’ foresight and generosity, Schoonover is no doubt the first of what will become a strong tradition of AU’s Karin A. Akerson Scholars.