Karen Poremski

A faculty member with a heart for the Lakota people

OWU Assistant Professor of English Karen Poremski keeps a spinning wheel in her office in Sturges Hall for quick relaxation in times of stress. (Photo by Linda O’Horo)

While many Ohio Wesleyan University students know assistant professor Karen Poremski from her writing and literature classes, others know her through their travels with her to South Dakota to visit the Lakota Nation during Spring Break Mission Team trips. This year will be her fourth visit with OWU students.

The Lakota Nation struggles with extreme poverty and related issues. Several years ago, University Chaplain Jon Powers approached Poremski and asked her to serve as an advisor on the mission team trips, where the OWU group performs service projects and meets nightly with tribal elders to learn about various issues. She says those visits have changed her life.

“It’s paradoxical. I love being there, but it’s a hard place to be,” says Poremski, Ph.D. She adds that OWU students sometimes get angry to see that this extreme poverty exists in the United States.

A few years ago, during a sabbatical, she spent a month-long cultural immersion with the Lakota people. She attended a variety of classes in language, art, history, health, spirituality, and other topics at Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Reservation in Mission, South Dakota.

“I was able to immerse myself in the culture for a longer period of time,” she explains. “I gained a better understanding of how they maintain their traditional values—despite the poverty, hardships, and the adverse effects of colonialism on their culture.”

Poremski was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and grew up in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English (with a minor in computer science) from the University of Maryland-College Park. She worked in the publications office of a higher education association in Washington before moving to San Francisco to attend California State University, where she earned a master’s degree in English and a certificate in teaching compositions.

She specializes in teaching Early and 19th Century American literature, women’s literature, and Native American literature.

She met her husband, Patrick Allen, in San Francisco, and they married and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she attended Emory University and earned her doctoral degree in English, with a certificate in women’s studies.

The couple live in Delaware with their son, Dexter, who attends sixth grade at Willis Intermediate School.

Each summer, she and her family visit South Dakota to see friends on the reservation. In her spare time, Poremski does a lot of reading, a little bit of knitting, and—of course—spinning!

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