M.S. Textiles, North Carolina State University, December 2017
Export Policy Analyst, U.S. Department of Commerce
For Karen Middleton, the Wilson College of Textiles was a perfect fit for her continued education. With a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Maryland, and previous experience in the U. S. Middleton sought to further her skills in business and technology with a master’s degree in textiles at NC State’s Wilson College of Textiles.
Since graduating from the college, Middleton has served as the keynote speaker at the accredited International Society of Industrial Fabric Manufacturers (ISIFM) Conference and worked in consumer research and organizational improvement at the Smithsonian. Today, she develops trade policy as an export policy analyst for the U.S. Department of Commerce.
We had the pleasure of discussing her experiences, volunteer work and unique career path.
Why did you choose NC State/Wilson College of Textiles?
I had several soft skills due to my anthropology and military backgrounds. I wanted to go to a graduate program that would provide me with both business and technical skills, but was also completely new. The Wilson College of Textiles fit that perfectly for me.
What are some of your fondest memories of being at NC State/Wilson College of Textiles?
They all involve food…I’m an early morning-type person and was a commuter student. Every morning I would arrive at the Wilson College of Textiles campus around 7 a.m. The coffee shop was always open, and I loved talking with the baristas before settling in to work. I would also get to chat with Dr. Hodge during this time about supply chain and manufacturing. These morning chats helped lead me to my thesis topic—with Dr. Hodge as a member of my thesis committee, of course!
Who influenced you most during your time at the Wilson College of Textiles?
My advisors, Dr. Helmut Hergeth and Dr. George Hodge. Also, Kristy Ruiz, the director of the Student Life Center at the time.
How did your education at the Wilson College of Textiles prepare you for what you are doing today?
As a graduate student, I was exposed to how the US conducts international trade. Specializing in textiles made it very easy for me to develop a base understanding of how businesses actively engaged in international trade.This has allowed me to more fully understand how the work I do for the federal government affects these businesses, making me a better advocate for sound and logical policy development to continue to expand US trade.
Are there things that you know now that you wished you had known as a student that we can share with our current and future students?
Really utilize the career center. I was determined to land a job before leaving the university and by going to Kristy for help, not only did I achieve my goal, but I also had the opportunity to be a keynote speaker at the International Society of Industrial Fabric Manufacturers (ISIFM) Conference and found a lifelong mentor.
Describe your career path.
I’m still searching for what I want to be when I grow up. My career path has been anything but linear. I started working in retail in high school and made it through my first year of college before dropping out to join the military. While serving in the US Army, I returned back to school and finished my bachelor’s. I worked as a government contractor for 18 months before deploying to Afghanistan. After that, I returned to retail, until I came to NC State for graduate school. Before I even finished my master’s, I landed a job with the Smithsonian doing consumer research and organizational improvement. Now I’m developing trade policy at the U.S. Department of Commerce. I’m excited to see where the next 5-10 years take me!