Karen and Robert Holtermann (44/50)
Pictured at the CCS 50th Anniversary Brunch in San Jose, CA on March 18, 2018.
CCS is honored to showcase 50 individuals and activities during our 50th Anniversary to share our rich history and amazing people responsible for making our unconventional College possible! Return regularly to learn more.
We often ask CCS alumni and parents how they heard about CCS and what led them to decide on the University of California. Well, for the Holtermanns, it seems to be in their blood. “We are big believers in the University of California,” said Karen and Robert Holtermann, proud parents of Wesley Holtermann (CCS Literature ’13) and passionate members of a multi-generation UC family.
Karen’s father was a professor of structural engineering at UC Berkeley and Robert’s dad worked at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, so “we both grew up in the shadow of the Campanile,” the bell tower that is one of UC Berkeley's most beloved and well-known symbols.
Robert and Karen both studied at UC Berkeley; Robert has a B.A. and M.A. in History from Berkeley and Karen has B.A.s in Journalism and English. Asked about a memorable moment as students at Berkeley, they looked at each other and almost broke into song, “We both took a class on William Butler Yeats from Thomas Parkinson, a legendary English professor who, after Yeats’ death, had lived on the poet’s farm for a time. Well, he came to the 8:00 a.m. class one morning as the Campanile bells were playing the tune of a Yeats drinking song. Parkinson spent the first 10 minutes of class teaching us the song, which we can still sing today!”
Their son Wesley heard about CCS from his cousin Alex Scordelis (Robert and Karen’s nephew) and Alex’s wife Melissa Seley, both graduates of the CCS Literature program, class of 2004. “Alex and Melissa loved CCS, and Wes was really intrigued by CCS when he was looking at colleges. We were delighted when he was admitted.” As CCS parents, “We had a ball,“ Karen says. “At the risk of embarrassing our only child, we loved showing up for Parents Weekend, Move-In Day, and the occasional visit. We took in everything the campus offered (lectures, museums, the ocean walks), and we were so glad that our son chose a school in a city we loved to visit. With minimal provocation, we’d still drive five hours to Santa Barbara just to have ice cream at McConnell’s.”
“Most importantly,” for these parents, “CCS had positive impact on Wesley’s life.” They noted, “Wes was always a creative guy (writing, art, music) but he was a student who did not stress over grades, an attribute we didn’t fully appreciate when he was in high school.” CCS offered their son a great blend of freedom, non-traditional curriculum, and rigor. Wesley’s writing and interests expanded, according to Karen and Robert, and he developed lasting relationships with faculty. Spending a semester abroad in India through UCSB’s Education Abroad Program (EAP) also had a big impact on Wes, who returned to India after graduation for an internship at Tehelka, an investigative journalism magazine.
“For a motivated, curious student who wants to jump into a field—whether it’s getting started early on research or creating art, music, or writing—CCS is fantastic,” commented the Holtermanns when asked how they would describe the College to future parents. For parents who have stressed over their student’s grades, test scores, and college prep, they advise them “to be prepared to let out the slack and see what your student can do at CCS.” They continued, “The reward for students is in the doing. For parents, the reward is watching their child find his or her own way to growing and creating something unique to them.”
Karen and Robert enjoyed their time as parents, especially meeting some of the Literature faculty and realizing how well they knew Wes and his writing. “That [level of faculty engagement with students] isn’t always the experience undergraduates have, but it was a defining feature in CCS,” they said.
Karen and Robert dedicated their careers to Higher Education at UC Berkeley; Robert as an academic adviser and dean’s representative and Karen in public affairs and fundraising. Robert helped undergrads find their way academically (and often personally) in the College of Letters and Science. He had a special focus on student athletes, disabled students, and those who devised their own independent majors. “The students faced their own challenges, and seeing them through to graduation was rewarding,” says Robert.
For a motivated, curious student who wants to jump into a field—whether it’s getting started early on research or creating art, music, or writing—CCS is fantastic
Karen spent most of her career in public affairs, and for a decade she was executive director of university communications. She oversaw a variety of communications, from the UC Berkeley web site to the catalog of courses to newsletters for faculty, staff, and parents. “It was absolutely never dull, and our goal was always to shine a light on the value of UC, the exceptional quality of its students and faculty, and the role it plays in changing the world for the better,” Karen commented about her work at Berkeley.
This is truly a University of California family. Scordelis and Holtermann family members who are UC graduates include Robert’s grandfather (Class of 1914), three of Karen and Robert’s four parents, three of their five siblings, and an assortment of cousins, uncles, nieces, and nephews.
“Happy anniversary, CCS!” applauded Karen and Robert as we came to a close at the College’s 50th Anniversary Brunch they both attended at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose on March 18, 2018.