Western Oregon University has a strong reputation for student athletes who are also academic achievers. Justin Karr, this year’s Delmer Dewey Award Winner for outstanding senior male, exemplifies that reputation. Karr, a cross country runner and distance runner for track and field, knew he wanted to be a student athlete like his older brother, who also attended WOU as an athlete, but he wasn’t sure what he wanted to study. He came to WOU with some credits in psychology from high school so he pursued that. He’s made the most of his time on campus and will graduate with two bachelor’s degrees through the Honors Program, one in psychology with a minor in biology and the other in social science with an emphasis in political science.
Karr’s research experience in psychology kept him busy on campus and took him off campus as well. He had an internship at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, which he called a transformative experience. “This was where I realized there was a clinical side to psychology that’s really beneficial.” He also worked with several faculty members on campus, notably Drs. Robert Winningham and Joel Alexander served as “fantastic mentors for his development as a researcher.”
Ultimately, he wants to have a career in clinical neuropsychology. Karr worked with Dr. Jason Quiring, an alumnus of WOU, while at Oregon State Hospital. He found Quiring to be “an extremely intelligent man who gave me a unique perspective on life and mental health in general.” Karr was interested in the brain and a hard scientific approach of investigating it through biological perspective. Karr has enjoyed the fusion of psychological research, biology and the clinical aspect he picked up at Oregon State Hospital. This all meshed to give him a perspective on his desired career trajectory.
Karr loves psychology because of the unknowns. He wants to study something more or less not entirely understood yet. “The brain is one of those things not fully understood that stands above the rest. There’s a plethora of research, but not a plethora of answers,” he said. He hopes to use his experience in psychology to do something that will improve the quality people’s lives, like working with Alzheimer’s patients, people with traumatic brain injury, or those who need support when coming back from war. To reach this, Karr will attend graduate school in clinical neuropsychology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.
Dr. Gavin Keulks, an English professor and director of the Honors Program, has found Karr to be one of his top students. “He ranks in the upper-tenth of 1 percent of the most intelligent, mature, and civic-minded individuals I have met in my 22 years of university teaching. He has never been the typical student–or Honors student for that matter. He is unswayed by trend or frivolity. He is driven yet humble, intellectually serious yet pleasant to be around. I laughed with him and learned from him, and I am convinced that he will become one of WOU’s most renowned alumni.”
Karr is also dedicated to his soon-to-be alma mater. “I think if anyone has a take-home message from graduating here, it’s that we’re always going to be Wolves. We’re going to be from Western Oregon with whatever we do.” He added that no one gets to graduation on their own. “There’s so many people. There’s the wisdom of my professors, the guidance of my coaches and the love of my family and friends. All of those things have contributed to my success and I know they have contributed to the success of many other people out there.”
Update: Karr has been awarded a prestigious NCAA postgraduate scholarship. He is one of just seven winners from the Division II level, and the only member of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference to earn the honor in the Spring.