“I was a nontraditional student for sure,” remarks Karla Butler. “I came to ACC after 25 years as a Carmelite nun.”
Today Butler, the Instructional Project Coordinator at Arapahoe Community College (ACC), is responsible for key areas of the inner workings of the college. Among other duties, she publishes the ACC catalogue, issues the credentials for Career and Technical Education instructors and manages the ACC Program Approval process with the Community College System. However, it was a long and usual path that brought her to this current position.
Following decades of living in an enclosed monastery in Jefferson City, Mo., Butler returned to her native home of Colorado to pursue higher education. After earning both an undergraduate and a master’s degree and establishing her career with various employers in the Denver area, she accepted her current position at her alma mater in 2012.
Butler joined the Carmel order straight out of high school.
“I grew up in the 60s, and things were pretty challenging then. I wasn’t running away, but I was thinking of the best place to do something for the world,” she explains in an interview via Zoom.
She lived most of the following 25 years at the Missouri Carmelite monastery, which was also a working farm. Along with harvesting and canning crops, one of her responsibilities was to serve as the in-house artist, a skill she learned from her mother.
In 1989, Butler decided it was time to move back to Colorado and start a new chapter in her life. She began her academic career as a 44-year-old freshman.
“Everyone at ACC really welcomed me in a wonderful way. And I enjoyed my classes so much. I think I appreciated it even more because of all of the life experience I’d already had,” she says.
She excelled as an ACC student and, through a prestigious program which allowed a small number of applicants to advance directly from an associate’s degree to a master’s program, was accepted into St. Thomas Seminary in Denver.
Throughout the time she earned her master’s degree in Pastoral Ministry and began her career, Butler worked part time for ACC. One of these part time positions was as an aide in the college’s disability services department. Her face brightens as she remembers the students she worked with there. She recalls, “The amazing spirit they had. . . there’s something beautiful about someone whose suffering and challenges bring them to maturity in all of these wonderful ways.”
In her current position, she misses working directly with students, but is quick to point out how much she enjoys interacting with her coworkers in the office.
As Butler’s relationship with ACC reaches its 30 year mark, her affection for the staff and students remains apparent. She remarks, “It’s been a really beautiful experience.”