Goodbye LMC, hello world

Counselor Karp to retire after 22 years


Cathie Lawrence

Retiring counselor Marie Karp smiles as she assists LMC student Erika Velasco.

Although she has no immediate plans for life after academia, Los Medanos College counselor Marie Karp is excited about the possibilities.

“I’m just looking forward to doing whatever I want to do,” said Karp, who will be retiring after 22 years here at LMC.

Karp, who is currently a MESA counselor and former transfer center director, said she would like to read more and frequent museums, “and you know, really have fun.”

But there is one definite thing on Karp’s bucket list and it is no small feat — a trip to the Antarctic.

“I better go see it soon, before you know …  everything melts.” said Karp. “And I really, really have this image of wanting to see penguins jumping off of icebergs.”

The Antarctic’s harsh climate and barren landscape may not make it the most ideal destination for even the most adventurous traveler but Karp is no amateur. This past summer she made an equally arduous voyage to a place with similar terrain, yet technically it’s considered the polar opposite.

“I wanted to see polar bears. And I did, I saw polar bears,” said Karp, of the reason for her recent trip to the Arctic. “They are really big.”

Karp, who had found an expedition ship through an internet search, traveled to a small island off the coast of Norway called Svalbard and set sail to search out the local wildlife.

“We got on this ship for about a week and it just traveled north through the ice.” said Karp. “And we were looking for polar bears and walruses and arctic fox and reindeer, and so we saw them all.”

And despite the freezing temperatures, Karp said the trip was quite comfortable. Passengers were given warm parkas and “it wasn’t too cold,” she said, explaining the temperature was somewhere in the 30s.

But she was presented with an opportunity to experience the full force of the frigid climate — in the form of a polar plunge — which she did.

There was a beach and all you had to do was just run in, said Karp, whose first thought when hitting the water was to get back out.

“Well there was icebergs floating in it, so it was cold,” said Karp, adding that the air actually felt warm after. “It was freezing. It was fun.”

Despite her love of nature, which started as a child during trips to the country with her grandparents and frequenting a couple of friends’ lake house, Karp chose to focus her career on people rather than the environment.

“I wanted to help …  in some way,” said Karp, who received a master’s degree in psychology from California State University, Hayward — now California State University, Eastbay — and has her marriage and family therapy license.

Karp’s master’s program focused on issues in the educational system — assessments, learning disabilities and other problems students might face in school.

“For me, school really changed my life,” she said, adding that college “opens up doors and opportunities. I really wanted to encourage students to do that.”

After college Karp worked in the K-12 academic system as a school psychologist and counselor but she had always had her eye on working at a college.

Initially Karp came to LMC for one simple reason — there was a job available.

“Getting a counseling position at a community college was very difficult,” said Karp, who had been working at a school in Antioch when she heard there was a position available at LMC. “I actually started teaching psychology here and then started a few hours of counseling, and then gradually added more and got my foot in the door a little further.”

Finally in 1998, after working for the college as a part-timer for five years, Karp was brought on full time.

In her time here at LMC Karp has been instrumental, said fellow counselor Laura Subia.

“She is the quiet strength and the historian of our department,” she said, adding that Karp is a wealth of knowledge and knows how to answer the complicated transfer questions that come up. “She helped to develop our transfer courses and to develop the transfer center.”

Counselor Sophia Ramirez said it is a loss for both her co-workers and the students, and wished she’d stay longer.

“[Karp] has been a great advocate for students and the Counseling Department,” said Ramirez. “She is also a great colleague and friend, and I will miss her wisdom and laughter.”

Although Karp has enjoyed the tight knit community of faculty and staff at LMC, she said the best part has been helping the students — this is what has made her smile most.

“I feel like I can relate to them,” said Karp. “Because many people are first-generation college students and, you know, maybe they come from families that aren’t encouraging them … or the parents don’t know how to encourage them.”

And Karp, herself the first college graduate of her family, knows what it is like to defy tradition.

“It’s interesting [because], in my family, basically the goal was to graduate from high school and then I was expected to work,” said Karp who was born to a New York City detective and stay-at-home mom. “But I had friends in high school whose parents were encouraging them to go to college and they kind of said to me ‘of course you’re going to college.’”

So, she started thinking about it.

“I had always been a good student,” said Karp, but her family didn’t have the money to send her to college.

Karp decided to take the New York Regents Exam, in which students who score well can obtain scholarships, and was offered a full ride to Fordham University — she only spent one year there however and received her bachelor’s of psychology from the City University of New York.

“I was born and raised in New York City,” said Karp, who grew up in the boroughs of Manhattan and, later, Staten Island with her two sisters.

She said growing up in the city was exciting, especially when she lived in Manhattan.

“There’s a lot going on and I just loved it,” said Karp.

But when she moved to Staten Island that all changed and it took some adjusting.

“Because, you know, it was so dynamic and busy in the city,” said Karp. “And Staten Island, you know, is more suburban.”

But there were also some benefits to living on the less crowded streets of the New York suburbs.

“The trade off was I got to have a bike that I could ride around,” said Karp. “I definitely couldn’t have that in Manhattan.”

Eventually Karp decided on another move, one that was all her own, and traded New York’s harsh climate for the milder West Coast.

When Karp was about 23 or 24 she traveled cross-country with a friend.

“We took a train from Montreal all across Canada,” said Karp. “We got off and on, and had a great time with our backpacks.”

They made their way to British Columbia and then, after meeting a friend in Seattle, headed south, down the golden West Coast before heading back across the United States.

“It was a great trip, but when we got to California I just loved it. And I just knew I was coming back at some point,” said Karp, who made the move permanently in 1977.

Even though the “weather is fantastic here” said Karp, the locals are what really set the golden coast a part from her hometown of New York City.

“You know one thing I really noticed is that the people in California, and probably all of the West Coast, is they’re very positive,” said Karp.

She said back home people were not always encouraging, and they were more traditional.

“So, in here in California it’s more of a ‘you can do anything’ kind of attitude,” said Karp. “I kinda like that.”

At the end of this semester Karp will make another life-changing choice — she will retire.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time. I just feel like I’d like to do something different,” said Karp, adding that no one knows how long they have to live. “There’s other things I’d like to do. I better get to them you know.”