For Karen Dahl ’99 (CLAS), lead architect of the Biden administration’s ambitious Public Health AmeriCorps job-training initiative, the path to a presidential appointment began with a chance encounter one spring day during her senior year. A few weeks shy of graduation, Dahl was crossing campus and happened upon an informational table for AmeriCorps, the federal agency for volunteering and community service. A double English and French major who’d helped start UConn’s women’s club soccer team, Dahl intended to go on to law school. But first she wanted to try living and working in Manhattan.
“Growing up in Danbury, I had always wanted to move to New York right after I graduated,” she says. After talking to the AmeriCorps reps, Dahl took home an application — “the internet was a baby thing, we still used paper” — checked off education as her area of interest and New York as her preferred destination, and dropped it in the mail. A round of interviews later, she was accepted into the program and assigned to Jumpstart, an AmeriCorps partner providing educational support to young children in underserved communities. She did everything from training college students in early childhood reading to creating partnerships with local businesses, Dahl says of her year of service.
Flash forward two decades to the fall of 2020. A senior administrator at the corporate training enterprise Guild Education with a master’s degree from Harvard and years of nonprofit leadership experience, Dahl takes a phone call. It’s the Biden transition team. Would she be interested in a position?