August 29, 2017
Growing up in the middle region of the Philippines, Karis Wolfe values people and a sense community.
“Back home when you open your front door, you see hundreds of people walking around. It’s almost like they are waiting there to talk to you,” she said.
At the age of 23, she picked up her life and moved to the countryside of Preston County, West Virginia, where the climate and culture were much different.
“I remember when my husband picked me up from the airport, the first thing I said to him was, ‘Where are the people?’ I was so shocked people were not out walking on the streets. And of course, from the Pittsburgh airport to West Virginia, it’s just mountains unless you come into town,” she said. “So, the transition was very hard. You know in the Philippines, you didn’t have to drive. You get out of your house and viola! Here [in West Virginia], we have to drive to basically everywhere. When I came here, I didn't even know how to drive.”
That was in 2003. Now, 14 years later, she has established a beautiful family and home right outside Morgantown, West Virginia, and built a successful career in the West Virginia University system as the chief business planning officer and assistant dean of business and operations for the WVU School of Nursing. She is also a 2015 graduate of the online-hybrid MBA program.
In 2008, she began her career with WVU as a payroll tax accountant in the tax services department, and in 2011, she became a financial management analyst for the WVU Health Sciences Center and was promoted to assistant director within budget and planning in 2012 until her next promotion in 2014 to the assistant dean role – all while in the OHMBA program.
“It was perfect timing. I think it gave me the right tools – leadership skills, teamwork and more. A lot of it is mostly how to manage people. So, that was one of the things that I think was the most valuable with the program. It gave me the opportunity to basically experiment on how to handle problem solving and dealing with different personalities,” she said.
Her current role shows the collaboration and tight affiliation between the University and WVU Medicine as she is technically a hospital employee working for the School of Nursing. She takes care of the business and day-to-day operations, including managing the finances for the school, contracts and compliance with state and federal regulations. She works to create an environment where transactions are transparent and to make internal controls and standard operating guidelines.
“I love it here because I get to work with nursing faculty, and it's really amazing where they’re coming from. They are so service-oriented and the school is so involved in the community and that’s very rewarding. It kind of gives me that purpose of what I do,” she said. “I see numbers, payroll, HR paperwork and all that, so sometimes you seem to forget what the purpose of your job is and this is it. The purpose is to help the school provide or produce wonderful nurses that will someday take care of people in need. And maybe someday will take care of me and my family. So, it’s a very rewarding place to work. It’s very community centered ways, very caring.”
As healthcare continues to be a critical issue around the world, it is also a major part of WVU’s strategic vision and outreach initiatives. And the College of B&E is at forefront of the intersection of business and the healthcare industry. With Wolfe’s role at the School of Nursing, she demonstrates how business is an important part of every industry, especially healthcare.
“When I came here, I didn't really understand how business would really fit in academia or healthcare, especially in a place where we’re affiliated with a hospital. But as days go by, I’m realizing that business folks really play an important role in both,” she said. “I’m almost like the liaison between our faculty and the clinics. I get involved with contract negotiations and making sure that the faculty is in compliance with HIPPA. All these procedures, regulations and rules are in place for a reason and the bottom line is the care for patients on the clinical side. For the academic side, it’s more producing high quality nurses that will be working in hospitals and clinics. I think our faculty and our clinical practitioners really depend on the business person to do the leg work before they can practice. It cannot be underestimated, but it’s very essential.”
While she is engulfed in the worlds of business and healthcare today, this was not always Wolfe’s path. After graduating with an undergraduate degree in management accounting from University of St. La Salle in Bacolod, Philippines, she did work as an accountant for a department store, but eventually went inside the monastery, thinking she was going to be a nun. After a year, she went out to help her family and then met her husband. For a year prior to moving to the United States, she worked as campus minister at a Catholic university. Wolfe says both experiences were very enriching and she still holds them close to her heart to this day.
“The people who had the biggest impact on my life were the nuns in the monastery. Their whole day is composed of just praying and working. Inside the monastery, we had this huge pond and we raised shrimp, which we exported out to Japan and other countries. That was our business,” she said. “Going in there, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, these people are business people too!’ They had to have some kind of an income to support themselves, and it was amazing. They’re such hard workers but very humble. I think that’s where I truly learned that if you want to be really happy, you have to be grounded as well as work hard.”
All of these experiences make her who she is today – a hardworking, compassionate and community-oriented businesswoman. She loves life in West Virginia with her husband Steven and 13-year-old daughter Autumn, but also still fosters that sense of community from the Philippines as a volunteer at the Morgantown Dance Studio and a cantor and choir member at St. Francis de Sales Church. She also recently joined the West Virginia Community Choir.
“It’s a culture thing. Filipinos are very gregarious people. I want to be surrounded with people all the time. Community – I think it’s good for your soul,” she said.