We Remember Karen Wells

Mon, 03/22/2021 - 2:51pm

We lost a giant in the fight against hate yesterday - Karen Wells, educator from Midland High School in Pleasant Plains, Arkansas, Discovery Education DEN leader, and IWitness Master Educator and Teaching Fellow. The Institute joins her students, Discovery Education colleagues, educators worldwide, friends and her family in mourning her loss.

A gifted educator, a generous colleague, and a deeply thoughtful person, Karen’s joy and passion for life were inspiring. 

Karen joined the USC Shoah Foundation program in Poland on the occasion of the 70th Commemoration of the Liberation of Auschwitz. On the journey home, she talked with fellow passengers about what she had seen on the trip and discussed how important it was to ensure students had access to Holocaust education. She taught her own students about how hate progresses and the importance of not standing by as it does. She came to Los Angeles shortly thereafter to be part of the first Virtual Field Trip about the program in Poland and continued advising on those programs through her final days teaching.

Karen once said that she became a teacher because she loved helping students accomplish things that they had once felt to be impossible.  She believed there was good in the world and worked to draw it out and cultivate it in her students. Through the work she did with us, she helped inspire thousands of students to be better, to do better and to be kinder. She helped all of us do that on a regular basis. She advised on how to make IWitness activities better for students, including the Stronger than Hate Challenge, and worked tirelessly to implement programs for her community, including hosting the Institute’s Director of Education and Evaluation, Dr. Claudia Wiedeman, for a day-long professional development program for her fellow teachers in the summer of 2015 in her corner of Arkansas. Claudia remembers Karen’s warmth and kindness which greeted her at her hotel the day of her arrival. Karen brought with her a bag of goodies and sweet tea, telling Claudia with pride “this is how we treat our guests down south; as it should be.”

At the heart of countering hate is seeing people and seeing their humanity. Karen embodied that.

Even at the end of her life, Karen was focused on ensuring that the powerful resources that she helped to create would be available for years to come by asking those wishing to offer tribute to make a donation to USCSF. Having given so much of herself over the years, we are humbled to know she made this final gift. And we will miss her.

“Testimony helps us see that hate doesn’t have to be countered with hate.”

—Karen Wells, 2020

USC Shoah Foundation