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Karen Vauk: This alum and nonprofit leader spent decades feeding Idaho

Karen Vauk isn’t your typical CEO. Her path to the top job at the Idaho Foodbank and her 14-year stay at the agency wasn’t run-of-the-mill either.

Vauk, a “double Bronco” (BA, education; 1980, MA, education, curriculum and instruction, 1985), knew early on that she wanted to be the first in her family to attend college. Growing up in Boise, she started her college savings fund when she was 12.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she taught at Amity Elementary School in the Boise School District for what she calls “eight very rewarding years.” She was introduced to corporate training and education in her master’s program – coursework that broadened her perspective on how to use her skills beyond the classroom.

“Dr. Phyllis Edmundson was the advisor for my master’s program, and I can never thank her enough for the support and guidance she provided,” Vauk said. “She was, and still is, the model of what I aspire to be as a leader, mentor and coach.”

Micron Technology hired Vauk to expand its training programs because of her expertise in curriculum design. She spent close to two decades with the company, creating worldwide leadership development programs and launching the Micron Technology Foundation. That experience set her up to lead the Idaho Foodbank, and, ultimately, to become an influential nonprofit leader across the region.

“The beauty of a Boise State education is that our alums are versatile, adaptable and impactful in a variety of settings, no matter their major,” said Ally Daniels, the director of the online and professional MBA programs at Boise State and an Idaho Foodbank board member. “Karen is a prime example of this. She’s a jack-of-all-trades, a well-rounded leader.”

Vauk’s passion for fighting food insecurity inspired a mobile pantry program that serves 68 communities, many of them rural and without other food services, in Idaho’s 44 counties.

Vauk is also aware of the many hurdles that students face during college. The Idaho Foodbank supports university-led food pantries at Boise State and on the campuses of three other Idaho universities.

During the past fiscal year, the Idaho Foodbank distributed enough food for 22.7 million meals with over 184,000 Idaho residents served monthly. Karen Vauk and her staff partnered with a network of more than 480 community distributors to reach remote areas across the state.

“We sometimes hear that it’s viewed as a rite of passage for college students to struggle financially, which can mean being hungry while trying to learn. When I was a student, I remember going to the grocery stores on the weekends for free samples as my only source of food. While I managed through that time, I firmly believe no student should face challenges like that,” she said.

Daniels said she saw Vauk approach challenges, including looking for bipartisan solutions and policies to address the root causes of hunger in Idaho, with “empathy, curiosity and tenacity.” Vauk said that she found motivation in these challenges, “especially when others want to join in the effort to tackle them.”

Vauk retired from the Idaho Foodbank in October 2023. She left a lasting imprint on the organization and the communities it served.

By Matt Jones

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