Andrea Karpala is good at making connections both in person and online, but it’s her ability to connect seemingly unrelated areas of expertise, such as cars, food and hammer throwing, that brought her to U of G.
After working in the private sector for several years, she says, “I always felt that I belonged in academia. I love working for the students.”
She joined the University in March 2012 as communications supervisor for organizational services, providing communications support to the Office of the Chief Information Officer and Chief Librarian (CIO/CL).
Karpala also helps manage the library’s Facebook (www.Facebook.com/McLaughlinLibrary) and Twitter (www.Twitter.com/UoG_ATS) accounts, which follow a monthly theme determined by the library’s social media committee. The committee’s 10 members are also content managers, some of whom are students. “We want to make sure that if we’re communicating to students, we actually talk to students and ask them what they want.”
With a background in public relations that spans the food and auto industries, she found a way to apply her communication skills in disparate fields at the library. “I think when you’re a communicator, it doesn’t really matter what you’re communicating. It’s about understanding the simple communications principles and using them.”
Targeting the right audience is key to getting the message across, she says, adding that it’s important to use the same language as the audience. Getting feedback from students about what interests and concerns them helps the library guide its communication strategy.
Her PR background makes her a people person, liaising with other departments to promote their events. As part of the communications team, she’s responsible for promoting events and programming on behalf of the library, Computing and Communications Services, and the Office of the CIO/CL.
Karpala helps promote the library’s many workshops, such as those focused on study skills. “Everything that we’re doing here at the library is so helpful for students, and it’s my goal to ensure that students learn more about the free services and the great workshops that are available to them here.”
A recent example of a project she worked on is the online security campaign launched last fall as part of the Office of the CIO/CL’s security awareness campaign. The program included tips on how students, faculty and staff can protect their personal information and privacy online.
She also helps co-ordinate events at the library, such as Gryphon’s Den in November. “I love experiential learning,” says the MBA grad. “I think it’s so important. I’m a huge supporter of the co-op program because it gives students valuable real-world experience.”
Modelled after the TV show Dragons’ Den, the event invited local employers to judge students’ business pitches. Many student participants said it was one of the most valuable learning experiences they’ve had — and in some cases it was one of the most frightening. “Students were freaking out” before the event, she says. Despite the nerve-racking experience, students said it helped prepare them for job interviews and presentations.
Karpala is currently helping co-ordinate the annual Writer’s Workshop Feb. 20 and 21, which features sessions led by U of G faculty and staff as well as local writers. The event is open to the public. Karpala will discuss social media.
She describes herself as a digital communicator who uses social media extensively in her personal and professional life. When she worked at PCGCampbell, an automotive-focused PR firm in Detroit, she helped train Ford Motor Co. executives to use social media and helped launch digital channels to promote vehicles and events.
A campaign to launch the Ford Escape hybrid included partnering with police departments to see which unit could achieve the best fuel economy using the vehicle. Gas prices had soared in the mid-2000s, which forced police departments to consider replacing their vehicles with hybrids, she says. “They really wanted to test out this technology before they had the opportunity to buy it.”
When the recession hit the automotive industry, she decided to return to Canada.
Her social media and PR skills landed her a job in food public relations. She says the role gave her a new appreciation for food and cooking. At Faye Clack Communications in Toronto, she worked with recipe developers and chefs to promote various foods to Canadian food media outlets. Her clients included the USA Rice Federation, the Watermelon Promotion Board, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Avocados from Mexico.
One of her campaigns involved encouraging mothers to feed rice to their babies as a healthier alternative to high-sodium baby food. A nationwide recipe contest – called “Rice Rice Baby” – was held in 2009. The recipes were judged by a panel of experts: babies. “Who’s better to test baby food than babies?” she says. The contest made the front page of the Toronto Star.
Growing up in Windsor, Ont., Karpala was a member of the Windsor Legion Track & Field Club, which she describes as “one of the most positive influences in my life.” At 19, she represented Canada at the Pan Am Junior Games in Argentina and placed ninth in shot put. “Sometimes your sport chooses you,” she says.
It wasn’t until her senior year in high school that she discovered the hammer throw. That led to a full-ride track scholarship at the University of Detroit, where she pursued digital media studies, followed by an MBA.
As a university student, she was involved in Facebook’s testing phase, a year or two before the social media site exploded in popularity. Her early exposure to social media gave her a different perspective. “I always looked at everything through a digital lens, that social interactive lens.”
A social media buff, she says social media allows her to connect with people she otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet. Facebook helps her stay in touch with friends and family, whereas Twitter helps her connect with people who have similar interests.
Karpala lives in Milton, Ont., with her husband, Rob. Follow her on Twitter (www.twitter.com/karps).