Get to Know Karin Hunter-Byrd
A veteran CAM advisor of 22 years, Karin Hunter-Byrd says she not only "lucked" into advising but also found a way to combine her interest in the arts and higher education.Megan Briggs | College of Arts & Media Feb 21, 2022
Born and raised in Colorado, Karin Hunter-Byrd is the director of the advising office in the College of Arts & Media (CAM), responsible for the oversight, management, strategic planning, and visioning of the advising department. Hunter-Byrd found herself in academic advising “accidentally.” After receiving an undergraduate degree in French and Business, and then going to art school, Hunter-Byrd started freelancing as an artist. She took a temporary front-desk position at a very young CAM at CU Denver in 1999. Hunter-Byrd moved into an advising position following the departure of the only advisor in the college. Given her art background and love for students trying to find their way in the world of art, Hunter-Byrd says it was a good fit—and still is, 22 years later. A self-described “arts nerd,” Hunter-Byrd says “I couldn’t believe my luck in being surrounded by people who were just as excited about the arts—if not more—than I was!”
1. What is your background with the arts?
I have played piano and been singing since I was a little kid. After college, I went back to school (“art school”) and majored in photography. I have two master’s degrees and was fortunate enough to be able to write both of my theses on science fiction cinema because of my love of film. I have an academic and professional toe in each of our three departments in CAM, have experience in each department, and a true love for all departments. I currently teach a first-year seminar in science fiction, keeping my love of the arts alive in the classroom.
2. What originally attracted you to academic advising and what compels you to stay?
I lucked into advising. But, it really was a perfect fit. I love working with students and watching their journey. Arts majors (and arts faculty) are my kindred souls! I totally understand why they need to pursue a major in the arts. When you are an artist, it is a calling and quite simply, it is difficult, if not impossible, to pursue anything else. I get that calling. I am living my own arts calling, albeit in a slightly different way.
The arts are the mechanism by which the human race moves beyond merely surviving to truly thriving. Everyone is a consumer of the arts—from music to design to film and television. There are few humans on earth who don’t use, experience, benefit from, or rely on the arts on a daily, if not hourly, basis. The world without art would be bleak, at best. Just about everyone who works [in CAM] not only understands and appreciates that, but strives to uphold the values and responsibilities that come with the creative industries.
3. How do your personal interests and professional interests intersect in your role in CAM?
I am a quasi-artist. I also have a love and appreciation for higher education. So much research supports the r.o.i. [return on investment] of higher education in increasing social mobility and community engagement. Higher education also fosters other necessary skills for students—teaching them about deadlines, about working in teams, about having difficult conversations, consequences for our actions, setting and achieving goals, handling obstacles and setbacks, and more. I am pursuing my doctorate in education because I believe so strongly in higher education. Working in CAM allows me to blend my calling in the arts with my calling in higher education. it’s quite simply a perfect fit.
4. What is something positive that you have been a part of during your time in CAM?
I have seen students go from tentative high school seniors to wildly successful, household-name artists and/or win the most prestigious awards in their disciplines (Emmys, Oscars, Grammys, Tonys), etc. I love watching students have their “lightbulb” moment in their artistic journey and own that newfound self-assurance. I’ve seen faculty mentor students through a crisis of artistic confidence and become life-long friends and colleagues. We often focus on our students—which makes sense—but the reason those students are so successful is in large part thanks to our incredible faculty. I think my two favorite days of the year are 1) new student orientation, wherein we and the faculty get to meet our new Cammies and welcome them to the CAM fam and 2) commencement, wherein we and the faculty see those same students realize their goals. Watching those students come back as cherished alumni and present or even teach is also pretty special.
5. What can a good advisor do for a student? What can’t an advisor do for students?
Advisors explore values, challenge assumptions, teach students how to advocate for themselves, guide students in building self-efficacy, and help them learn how to be ok with failure and with success. My role as an advisor is to help students find ownership of their college experience and feel empowered to make decisions that promote personal growth and fulfillment. We strive to be a judgement-free, safe space where students feel they have a friend, an advocate, and an ally on campus. Advising often happens at critical moments (declaring majors, confessions of confusion or failure, revelations of vulnerabilities). Advisors endeavor to help students recognize their “hidden intellectualism”—interests and talents they possess outside the classroom. In reality, we function as mentors, and are so much more than registration/schedule helpers or human degree audit machines.
Advisors do not make decisions for students; advisors do not have all the answers; advisors cannot solve problems for students. like everyone in higher ed, we are often constrained by the myopia, structures, and inertia of administration and the institution. While the bureaucracy may be frustrating, it is necessary and can be quite valuable—and advisors can help students understand how best to navigate through it.