Student Union Building
875 Perimeter Drive MS 4264
Moscow, ID 83844-4264
1031 N. Academic Way,
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814
Karen Oleson CAA
When University of Idaho student Karen Oleson started her college career in San Diego studying biology, a landscape architecture professor from another college tried to steal her away to his department. It was a move ahead of its time.
Several years, a family and a career teaching middle school later, Oleson is finally realizing her dream with concurrent undergraduate and graduate degrees in landscape architecture. She will be one of the first students to receive the newly accredited master of landscape architecture degree.
”I’ve always loved landscape architecture,” says Oleson. “I wanted to be in a place where I could have the freedom to be creative. I love planting, building, drawing, art and science; this profession rolls it all into one.”
And now, after three years of hard work, she is on the brink of graduation and ready to head out into the job market.
“Karen doesn’t just see landscape, she really feels a site and lets it speak to her. Her intuitive and responsible focus will bring positive action and beauty to the built environment,” says Elizabeth Graff, assistant professor of landscape architecture.
The path was not straight for Oleson; after completing her associate of science degree, she set off traveling the Northwest to see where she might want to settle. After three years of ski-bumming and resort jobs, she saved enough to buy 10 acres and eventually landed in Sandpoint to raise a family. She finished her degree at the University of Idaho satellite campus in Coeur d’Alene – a teaching degree that “fit well with a family.”
“Teaching was creative and fun; I wouldn’t change that experience,” says Oleson, who taught math and science to middle-schoolers. “But I can’t imagine retiring as a teacher – I need to do this.”
When her last child finished high school three years ago, Oleson and her husband moved to Moscow. Her son followed as he, too, enrolled at the University. While she tries to give him his space, he drops by her studio to say "hi" and comes home for dinner often enough. They even worked on a clean-up day and landscape project at Sigma Alpha Epsilon together.
“It’s nice to have him around,” says Oleson, adding that her son has been teaching on the slopes of Colorado this semester while taking online courses. “He’s so proud of me; he’s flying back just to see me graduate.”
Stepping up to opportunities as they arose during her academic career, she worked cross-disciplinarily with the College of Natural Resources to acquire a sustainability grant to design and implement native plant demonstration gardens at various locations, including the garden in front of the CNR Living and Learning Center. She also designed the xeriscape, stormwater parking lot garden at the Moscow Food Co-op and contributed park design consultation to the City of Palouse.
“I love going out and feeling a site – it’s almost like getting to know a person,” says Oleson. “You almost have this conversation, an interaction that takes that idea and comes out with a completely different approach.”