While most 12 year olds are more concerned with schoolwork and adolescent fun than worrying about the future, Karen Vauk was hard at work saving money for college. The dedication paid off when she graduated from Boise State University in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and in 1985 with a master’s degree in curriculum design and instruction, the first among her parents and five siblings to earn a college degree.
Vauk’s education provided the perfect stepping stone to her first professional endeavor — teaching in an elementary school classroom. After eight years as a teacher, however, Vauk decided to make a big change.
“One of my professors in my master’s program had made the transition from public education to corporate education,” she writes in an email. “The more I learned about that, I realized I wanted to experience those challenges.”
In 1988, Vauk joined Micron Technology, Inc. as the leadership and employee development supervisor. Instead of teaching children in a classroom, she transitioned to teaching supervisors and managers in a corporate setting. However, Vauk’s success during her 18 years with the company came from her ability to not only be a great teacher, but also an avid student. After working with the company for 12 years, Vauk became the executive director of the Micron Technology Foundation, which was a crash course in the nonprofit world.
Today, that experience serves her well as she helms The Idaho Foodbank as its president and CEO. When Vauk began with the nonprofit in 2009, the country was in a recession and the need for the food bank’s services was growing at a staggering rate. Since 2008, The Idaho Foodbank has more than tripled the amount of free food provided to food insecure people in the state. She also has worked to expand services that focus on nutrition and health to emphasize the relationship between nutritious foods, healthy eating habits and access to quality health care.
“During her tenure at The Idaho Foodbank, Karen has overseen the significant growth of the organization, which has expanded to 62 employees and serves an average of 179,000 Idahoans each month,” writes Denise Chuckovich, the current chair of The Idaho Foodbank Board of Directors.
Vauk’s success does not stop with her professional achievements; it also extends to her personal life. She says her greatest personal accomplishments are her two children, and the same drive and determination she displays in her career is what has allowed her to be a successful single parent to her son, who passed away in 2016, and her daughter.
At 13, Vauk’s daughter, Emily Bridges, organized a presentation for a nonprofit group supporting education for children in Uganda that drew an audience of 700 people. For her 16th birthday, she organized a party and fundraiser for the same organization and raised nearly $2,000. Whether it is through her role as a parent or as a nonprofit CEO, Vauk jokes that once a teacher, always a teacher.
“What I didn’t fully realize until several years later was that my parenting had influenced her desire and ability to do those things,” she writes. “The feeling of pride that comes from things like this is indescribable.”
While Karen Vauk’s career began in an elementary school classroom, she has used her passion for teaching to lead nonprofit organizations such as the Micron Technology Foundation and now The Idaho Foodbank as its president and CEO. Through her work, she prevents and reduces food insecurity and hunger in Idaho.
Earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Boise State University
She became the first person in her family to graduate from college.
Established several corporate giving programs across the world
During her time with the Micron Technology Foundation, she established international grant and scholarship programs.
Received the White House Champion of Change Award
In 2015, Vauk was named a Champion of Change by then-President Barack Obama.
Rolled out the Idaho Foodbank’s Hunger to Health strategy
The Foodbank focuses on how healthy diets and access to health care can help minimize the expenses that arise from an improper diet.