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From Student-Athlete to Teacher-Scientist

Karen Ball's Alma Experience Comes Full Circle

"I contribute because Alma is my alma mater. ... Designating an estate gift allows me to make a commitment and tell the College how much I appreciate the education I received." - Karen Ball

Observing her older brother's experiences at Alma College made an indelible impression on Karen Ball '87.

"My brother Mark was a poster child for a liberal arts education," says Ball. "He was in music education, then moved into insurance underwriting and is now involved in software development. Watching his experiences was important in setting my mind toward Alma."

Karen eventually followed her brother, a 1981 graduate, to Alma as a student-athlete pursuing a degree in exercise physiology. She went on to earn her Ph.D. and is now back at Alma as an associate professor of exercise and health science.

She also has committed her support for the College and the Open Windows Campaign by designating an estate gift to her alma mater in appreciation of the education she received.

"When I was in seventh grade returning from Alma after watching my brother perform in the matching band, I told my mother that I was going to Alma," she recalls. "Watching my brother's experience, seeing the friendships he formed, his involvement in music, his interaction with faculty - all that told me that Alma was a special place.

"Then, when I went to Alma's summer sports camps, the coaches who ran those camps were top-notch and reinforced all that I observed from my brother's experience. As a result, I never considered a larger institution - it was between Adrian and Alma," she says.

She chose Alma, playing basketball four years, running track two years, working as a student trainer and majoring in exercise and health science.

"In my junior year I began to sort out what I wanted to do," she says. "John Davis was hired as a faculty member my junior year. He focused me on going to graduate school and getting me involved in research and working in the lab."

After graduating in 1987, she enrolled in graduate school at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"Coming out of Alma, my area of interest was exercise physiology," she says. "But after one year I shifted to the physiology and biophysics department. That gave me a different experience - not just in exercise physiology areas but also in broader physiology. My graduate work took me away from exercise."

She received her Ph.D. in 1994. Then she went to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey as a post-doctoral fellow.

"In grad school, I wanted to be a research scientist and work at a research university," she says. "But after a year as a post-doc, I began rethinking the environment in which I was working. I eventually determined that I wanted to come back to a teaching environment. I wanted to be in a place where I could work with students who have a passion for science and send them on to do scientific work."

In 1995, the EHS department at Alma was seeking to fill a faculty position that required Ball's academic background.

"The timing was quite amazing; I applied and was very fortunate to have been selected for the hire," she says. "I like being back in the exercise physiology department, even though my background and experiences are different from others in the department. I like bringing a different view for the students - to help them think on a smaller, molecular scale."

Ball teaches courses in human physiology and pharmacology. She has developed an advance muscle physiology course in which the mechanisms of muscle function are studied at the molecular level. She also studies therapeutic strategies in diabetic patients with congestive heart failure.

She also takes an active role in the recruitment of students interested in exercise and health science. When she talks with prospective students, Ball focuses on the personal interactions with faculty and students.

"Our department exemplifies that as well as any on campus," she says. "Everybody in the department and across campus is committed to working with students both in and out of the classroom. We get to know students, sometimes, better than they want us to know them. After I talk with students about interactions, then I start with the details of the program."

Ball's financial support of the College comes from her connections as an alumnus.

"I contribute because Alma is my alma mater," she says. "I'm not able to set aside as much as I would like, but designating an estate gift allows me to make a commitment and tell the College how much I appreciate the education I received."

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A charitable bequest is one or two sentences in your will or living trust that leave to Alma College a specific item, an amount of money, a gift contingent upon certain events or a percentage of your estate.

an individual or organization designated to receive benefits or funds under a will or other contract, such as an insurance policy, trust or retirement plan

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I, [name], of [city, state ZIP] give, devise and bequeath to Alma College [written amount or percentage of the estate or description of property] for its unrestrictred use and purpose.

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You fund this trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. Each year the trust pays you or another named individual the same dollar amount you choose at the start. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to Alma as a lump sum.

A beneficiary designation clearly identifies how specific assets will be distributed after your death.

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