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CAEL Pathways Blog

Q&A With CAEL Staff: Kari Shafenberg

Kari Shafenberg joined CAEL in 2022 as director of initiatives. In that role, she works closely with CAEL's partner institutions to implement tools and solutions that enhance capacities to serve adult learners and workers. Prior to joining CAEL, Kari held leadership positions at several colleges and universities, overseeing degree mapping and audits, transfer policy, and other policies critical to equitable student success.


Kari Shafenberg

What's your favorite example of CAELs impact?
I define success at CAEL as knowing that an institution is implementing meaningful change that centers the adult learner. Our work has the capacity to truly change lives, and every institution we support increases that reach. 

What drew you to CAEL?

I am energized by doing work that matters. CAEL has a good reputation, years of experience, and a track record of successfully supporting meaningful student initiatives. Being part of this organization meant being part of that work, which I found exciting.

If there's one piece of advice you could give adult learners and one piece of advice you could give to institutions/organizations committed to better serving them, what would it be?
My advice to adult learners would be that you are closer than you think and more prepared than you realize. Even students who have been away from school for years and have anxiety about being back in the classroom should focus on their personal and professional successes. They have time management skills, executive functions, family management, and can show their progress in their everyday tasks. Those skills are transferable to the classroom, and institutions are more open than ever to providing student support.

And to institutions, I would say that your adult learners may not ask for help, but they still need it. Give them the support and care that they deserve without them having to ask. That includes recognizing them as whole people, including their professional and personal histories, it means giving them flexibility and adaptability with their schedules and their courses, and it means providing some guidance and support as they adjust to the new educational environment. 

What gives you the most hope about the future of the adult learner ecosystem?
I see change happening at the state level in many parts of the country. That gives me hope, because when broader support uplifts work on credit for prior learning (CPL) or apprenticeships, then we see resources and time spent supporting that work. With the right people and resources, major change is possible. 

What is the last book/movie you read/watched?
I'm currently reading my way through The Thursday Murder Club books. I'm on the fourth and most recent in the series, and hoping there are more to come! 

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?  
I love to cook, and especially bake. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and usually involves a three-day cook-a-thon. Julia Child said that a party without cake is just a meeting, and I have enough meetings during the week, so on the weekends, we have cake. 

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