• Born on September 16, 1936 .
  • Passed away on March 10, 2019 .

Karen Joy Erickson (Orvik), 82 years old, of Cambridge, MA, passed away peacefully on March 10, 2019, surrounded by family. She lived life in constant forward motion, at a faster pace than most could keep up with at any age. Devoted to her three children, she dedicated her life’s work to higher education as a scholar, professor, and dean.

Born in Aberdeen, WA to Lloyd and Julia Erickson in 1936, Karen grew up in Kelso, Washington, and graduated in 1954 from Kelso High School. A first-generation college graduate from Stanford University, she worked summers in the offices of Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (WA). Upon graduation, she was awarded two consecutive Fulbright Scholarships, 1958-1960.Strongly identifying with her Finnish heritage, at the age of 22 she conducted interviews with all 200 members of the Finnish Parliament, including then Prime Minister Urho Kekkonnen. This research would later serve as the basis for her doctoral thesis on Finnish foreign policy at Harvard University.

Karen included some of these interviews in her Finnish book, “Tehtävä Helsingissä”, published in 2013. She also presented a speech on the interviews to the Finnish parliament, (a draft of which she had composed at the age of 22!) Karen was also the subject of the Finnish documentary “Karen and Grigori”, a portrait of her life in Helsinki during this time, which has screened at multiple film festivals.

As a doctoral student at Harvard University, she met her future husband, the Norwegian scholar and author Nils Orvik.The two married in 1964, moved to Oslo and had their first child in 1965. After relocating to Canada and having 2 more children, Karen taught political science at Queen’s University in Kingston, University of Guelph, and University of Western Ontario in London. In 1984, while a professor at the University of Southern Maine, she pioneered the North American Students Seminar, a coalition of US and Canadian political science students who were granted unprecedented access to hear Supreme Court cases argued and to meet with top lawmakers in Washington DC. In 1991, while professor at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, she continued to mentor her students for top fellowships, and was a leader in furthering dialogue, policy and strategy on US and Arctic relations through the international conferences and symposiums she organized.

At the age of 70, she made a career change to become Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Southern New Hampshire University, a position she held for the next ten years. Drawing on her experience as a professor, she honed her vision for the school as a vibrant intellectual environment grounded in scholarship and practical application. She was also instrumental in bringing art, music, and an MFA in creative writing to the school.

Karen is survived and loved by her brother Dave, her three children Kirsti, Karl and Kari, her two daughters-in-law, Stephanie and Vero, and her two grandchildren, Cody and Caleb.

In lieu of flowers, tax-deductible donations can be made to the Karen Erickson Finnish Archives Memorial Fund, to complete the transcription and translation of her Finnish interviews, in order to include them in the national archives in both Finland and Washington D.C.


To contact the family, you can email korvik8@yahoo.com  or  kariorvik@gmail.com

Posted by Laurel Angus on April 4, 2019
I remember a friendship forged over 50 years ago in Finland, where we both were Finnish- American "exiles".  Just this afternoon (!), April 4th, 2019, I was cleaning out a desk, and happened across a letter Karen had sent me in February 1965. Not sure why it had been saved (perhaps because of her meeting Martin Luther King in Oslo), but it inspired me to google her name. I am shocked to learn she had so recently passed away and am very sorry we lost touch over the years. She was exceptionally bright and vivacious, a very kind and caring human being.
Posted by Steven Bogart on March 21, 2019
Karen was an amazing mentor and enthusiastic supporter of my work and the arts at Southern New Hampshire University. I am so grateful to have known her and to have worked with her.

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