Everyday Hero: Karen Pirhalla

Posted: June 7, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

This occasional Mason Gazette feature profiles key people at Mason who “make it happen.”

Karen Pirhalla
Karen Pirhalla

Years at Mason: Depends on how you count – 26 as a classified staff member

First Job at Mason: Student wage assistant for the Office of Continuing Education, in the summer of 1976

Current Position: Director of Campus Operations, Prince William Campus (PWC)

What She Really Does: Everything. Pirhalla oversees all operational aspects of the campus to ensure that services and support are in place to meet the needs of the faculty, staff, students and visitors. In addition to her day-to-day responsibilities, she coordinates projects that can run the gamut from planning campus landscaping enhancements to working with an artist who recently made a major donation of original art to PWC.

Number of Years She Has Really Been at Mason: 31. Pirhalla began her long-term relationship with the university as a business administration student in 1975. She graduated in 1980 and became a classified employee. As a classified employee, she supported the director of the Bachelor of Individualized Study program and eventually transitioned into working for the dean of the Graduate School. In December 1992, she began what she calls a “truly extraordinary adventure” – bringing a new campus, which was then called Prince William Institute, online.

The Real Reason She Came to Mason: She met her husband, David Pirhalla, BS Business Administration ’78, while in high school. “We started dating when he was a Mason freshman and, actually, it is because of him that I ended up deciding to attend Mason for my business degree as well,” she says. “Until he graduated, we enjoyed taking some of the same classes together – many at the old North Campus (now Paul VI High School). Those were fun times.”

What You Might Not Know about Her: Pirhalla grew up in Japan, attending first through eighth grade in Tokyo. Her father worked for the Army & Air Force Motion Picture Service building theaters for the troops overseas.

What She Likes Best about Her Job: “The constant – I mean constant – variety, being part of a great team nurturing a growing campus and the many opportunities to grow professionally and learn new things,” she says.

Greatest Accomplishment to Date: “I’m proud of my tenure with, and service to, the university. This achievement has certainly allowed me to witness many great Mason moments and accomplishments.”

Her Personal Motto: “To be of service to others in the best (and any) way that I can.”

What She Does for Fun: “I LOVE to go to flea markets. When I’m not out tracking down treasure with my husband or girlfriends, one can usually find me in my garden exploring ways to fit one more plant into my townhouse garden beds.”

What People Say about Her:

“I have had the opportunity to work with Karen on a daily basis for the past four years in her role of director of campus operations at Prince William, although we have known each other more than 20 years. She is without a doubt one of the most efficient, professional, competent and thorough people I’ve worked with and is remarkably consistent in her attention to detail and getting the job done right. In her oh-so-many years at Mason, Karen really has become one of those staff building blocks upon which our success is based. It’s hard to imagine Mason without her … and she is indeed one of PW’s everyday heroes!”

―Larry Czarda, vice president for regional campuses

“Karen and I have worked together at Prince William since the opening of the campus. Everyday Karen makes it a joy to come to work! She is a true pleasure – as a co-worker and a friend. Her work ethics are inspirational.”

―JoAnn Stevens, office manager, Prince William administration

“Karen is definitely the ‘go-to’ person at PW Campus. She is immediately responsive to issues brought to her attention, and she also has a talent for being proactive. She has a great sense of anticipating what might be coming down the road. Karen has a great eye for the aesthetic and has made our buildings and grounds a most welcoming and comfortable place to work and visit.”

―Betty Andrews, enrollment services coordinator in the PWC’s Student and Academic Services Office

“I love Karen’s enthusiasm for preserving the wild things on the Prince William Campus. Whether it’s mergansers on the pond, a cardinal flower in bloom, strutting turkeys or gnawing beavers, she delights in them and finds a way to protect their space so we can all enjoy the richness of a Virginia countryside in the midst of urban growth.”

―Cathy Perdue, administrative office specialist, Prince William administration

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