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Karen Roth
Karen Roth

UTSA Spotlight: Karen Roth works for students' success and personal success as novelist

By Rebecca Luther
Editor, Sombrilla Magazine

(May 24, 2007)--Like a lot of nontraditional students who have come through UTSA, Karen Roth held a variety of odd jobs before committing herself to higher education: she painted houses, waited tables and once owned two women's shoe stores. Now Roth, who is associate director of the Tomás Rivera Center for Student Success at the UTSA Downtown Campus, has added another title to her long résumé: novelist.

In 2006, Roth, who earned both her bachelor's and masters degrees at UTSA, independently published her first novel, "Found on 16th Street." The Depression-era tale is set in a Czech community in Roth's hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In writing the book, she wanted to honor her own Czech heritage and to immortalize a vibrant community and way of life that largely vanished after World War II, when immigrants her parents' age wanted to assimilate into the American lifestyle.

"That's my goal for writing historical fiction," she says, "that people will find out about different cultures and how people had different world views. But you do all this with the thrill of a story, of a narrative, rather than reading a dry history book."

Roth studied literature and journalism at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, but got married, dropped out of school and moved away by the time she was 20. She eventually completed her bachelor's degree at UTSA in 1996 and, a month later, joined the staff of the university as a developmental reading and writing specialist. In 2000, she became coordinator of the learning assistance program and later the same year earned a master's in adult higher education.

"I was 35 when I came back [to school], and I was just like a fish put back into water," she says. "The fact of the matter is working at a university is very inspiring. I'm energized by the time I spend with students."

Similarly, the tale in "Found on 16th Street" is an inspirational one, and Roth says one of the reasons she wrote the book was because she sees a lack of spiritually themed literature in bookstores and on the bestseller lists.

"[There's] nothing about personal growth, or nothing that inspired and uplifted me, and that's what I want out of a story," she says. "My stories are about people in transformation. That's the best story in the world, when you see a person coming out of difficulty or heartbreak or neglect, and you get to see that person begin to grow and change and really step out into the person they can be."

That's a story Roth sees played out daily in her work at UTSA, and she enjoys encouraging others to pursue their goals.

"A lifetime truly can be an adventure of learning. Don't ever give up on yourself because you think it's too late," she says. "That's something I'm seeing from this experience -- it's never over."

While Roth says she's thrilled and relieved to see her first novel in print, her career as a novelist isn't over, either. She has two more novels in the works, one of which is a sequel to "Found on 16th Street," and while she continues to do book signings and other publicity to promote her first novel, she's also trying to sell the two new books to publishers.

"If no one buys them, I'm going to go ahead and publish them anyway because I love to write so much," she says. "For me, this has brought back the joy of learning. It's the joy of doing something that you want to do, the joy of putting your whole heart into something for the sheer love of the work that you're doing."

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