Karen Buchwald Wright ’74: Catalyzing discourse

Karen Wright

Home: Mount Vernon, Ohio
Gifts to For the Hill and Beyond:
  • $1 million to support the Great Conversation, a five-course sequence that traces the development of literary and artistic expression, philosophic thought, religious belief, and historical reflections on Western culture into the modern world
  • $1 million to support the Institute for Freedom and Community, which aims to foster intellectual inquiry and meaningful discussion of important political and social issues
  • St. Olaf Fund Leadership Circle member

“I feel compelled to give that leg up, that chance, that encouragement that can make a difference for an entire lifetime.”

Impact: Wright’s endowed fund for the Great Conversation supports faculty salary and prep time, out-of-the-classroom learning opportunities, and supplemental texts to relieve students of added program costs while undergirding intensive student-faculty engagement. Her gift for the Institute for Freedom and Community is directly supporting its first four years of programming.

Why: “There’s always more to learn,” she says. “In almost everything you do in life, you will have to work with others — and the beauty of almost any group is that there will be a variety of viewpoints. You need to have the ability to thoughtfully consider them in order to succeed. Both of these programs provide broad perspectives richly grounded in the liberal arts.”

On the Hill: Wright created her own ethology (animal behavior) major through St. Olaf’s Paracollege. Taking biology, psychology, a semester in Asia, and self-designed courses which worked well with her independent streak she graduated in just two-and-a-half years hoping to become “a Jane Goodall.” While she ultimately went into the family business, Wright says that ethology has remained a lifelong interest, and adds smiling “that raising four sons may have well called upon my major.”

Beyond: Wright worked for several firms before working for Ariel Corporation, a company her father founded which is now a world leader in the design and manufacturing of natural gas compressors. Rising through its ranks while raising her family, Wright became CEO and president in 2001. Six years ago she created the Ariel Foundation, focused on enhancing the quality of life in her hometown. Personally she supports myriad issues such as free enterprise and liberty, entrepreneurship in developing countries, women and children, and freedom of speech.

Why she gives: “I’ve been really lucky,” Wright says. “I’m the second generation to lead a successful business, and I’ve been able to take it to the next level. While decidedly imperfect, our nation set the example for success through personal responsibility and merit. Consequently, I feel compelled to give that leg up, that chance, that encouragement that can make a difference for an entire lifetime.”