Follow along: There’s a line that goes from One to Two. From there, Two connects to Three. From Three to Four, then Four to Five. Eventually, when all of the connections are made, the end result is something much bigger and usually better than just lines. It is then that you can see the big picture.
Karen Stallman, 56, of Ellis Grove, sees the big picture and understands the importance of making the connections.
“I tell people that I connect the dots,” she explained, describing her job as director of community relations for Southern Illinois University. “I link the Carbondale campus to the community. There are people in the region who say, ‘What’s going on at the university? What can I do? How can I be involved?’ And then there are people on campus who ask, ‘What can I do out in the communities? How can I be involved in the region? How can I reach out?’ I simply connect the dots and answer the questions.”
It’s a relatively new role for Stallman, one she’s been handling for about a year after serving as SIU’s director of continuing education and outreach for five years. Her work finds her off campus as frequently as on, often meeting with individuals or groups, trying to fulfill the University’s chartered responsibility to the region.
“It’s really trying to develop new partnerships and enhance some of the partnerships that SIU already has out in the region,” she said. “Every day is different.”
Maybe her day includes a meeting with city leaders, speaking at a civic group, attending a countywide chamber of commerce event or talking tourism, she often finds herself as the face of the University for the region, but Stallman is a perfect fit for the job. She is a true Southern Illinoisan, living on the farm where she grew up, overlooking the confluence of the Kaskaskia and Mississippi Rivers. She has two degrees from the institution where she works and more than three decades of experience working in education.
“I managed a county extension office in Randolph County for the University of Illinois Extension Service for 20 years,” she explained. “I loved it, doing lots of programing and working closely with farmers and youth in the 4-H organization.
She also worked for Southwestern Illinois College in admissions and later as vice provost for the community college’s Red Bud campus. Outside of work, Stallman is a volunteer for the Chester Public Library, is an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and just completed ten months as part of the Delta Regional Authority’s Delta Leadership Institute.
“I learned a lot about the potential that we have in the delta and of all of the resources available that I had no idea existed,” she said. “I learned about so many untapped resources that I think we could be using here in Southern Illinois. I’m just trying to bring some of it back.”
Stallman says she learned about hard work and giving back from her parents and her late sister, well-known SIU professor and political leader Barbara Brown.
“I really learned that from my sister and my parents,” she said, holding back tears as she recalled Barb. “They instilled in me that you give back. A lot of times I found myself volunteering at events that Barb was involved in and there was just that sense of giving back. I know it is kind of cliché, but it really is important to me to give back and volunteer.”
That includes efforts to support and fund a memorial scholarship at SIU honoring her sister and a second scholarship presented to students impacted by breast cancer.
She keeps her focus on the region and how both she and SIU can be part of making Southern Illinois better.
“I think from years of working in Southern Illinois, even with Extension, I was based in Randolph County, but was basically working in the entire region. I was able to develop this network and learned where to go for help,” he explained. “I think often I can draw on that experience of just working in this region and be able to connect. It’s a real advantage to have grown up here and have worked here for so long.”
She says making the connections is fairly easy with the people in the region.
“You’ve got people living here with a good work ethic,” she said. “You’ve got people that are responsible, people that are follow-through people. I think there’s a real family bond in most of our communities; everybody’s related to somebody else and I think that’s a real strength.”
When told that her description of the region also describes her, she nods in humble agreement.
“I think I’m pretty typical of the people around me,” she said. “They want to see the region become better, they want to see their communities be better. It might describe me, but I know it describes a lot of the people around the region and around the university. They want to see things succeed. They see the big picture.”
Maybe it’s because the big picture becomes clearer as Stallman connects the dots.