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A lifetime of connecting the dots

Web chat operator and long-time staff member of TAFE Queensland's Greater Brisbane and South West regions, Karen Clohessy looks back at a career saying yes to every opportunity.

Karen Clohessy began her time at TAFE Queensland in 1974. After a year working in the public service at the Housing Commission, she put in her transfer to work closer to home and was given the opportunity to work as a clerk typist at the then-called 'Ipswich Technical College', now TAFE Queensland Ipswich campus.

“I started in a little office there, which we don’t use anymore, along with two others, a clerk and one clerk typist. I was part of that team for six years,” she remembers.

Due to increased demand for tertiary education in the region, in 1980 a new campus was opened in Bundamba. Karen, fresh back from her honeymoon arrived in the office to find out she’d been relocated.

“Five more years went by at Ipswich and in 1985 or 86 this man came into the office and took our electric typewriters away. Then this other girl in the office gave us this ‘computer thing’ and that was the start of that!”

Smiling as she reminisces using this fancy new piece of equipment, which was so freshly invented it only had a P1 phosphor (or monochrome) screen that displayed green lines of text on a black screen.

“The mouse wasn’t even invented yet!” she exclaims. “I resolved to figure it out. This, in the long term, helped me expand my career as I was one of only a few people who knew how to use one on campus.”

“It was also funny because we had these bosses who thought, ‘oh you’ve got a computer. You can get 10 pages of writing onto one page of typing’. They couldn’t quite understand it! It’s funny in hindsight – look how far we’ve come,” Karen laughs.

Karen got so good at using the new computer she and another girl in the office were asked if they could teach others how to use them.

“One of the bosses, who oversaw short courses, known then as adult community education, or ACE courses, came into the office, looked at me and the other girl there and said, ‘Can you teach this stuff, these computers?”

“I said, ‘Oh yeah, of course!’” she laughs. “In my head I was thinking ‘why not. You can figure it out.’”

So, in the 1987 Karen began her teaching career.

“First it was teaching Word Perfect, Microsoft Word had not been created then, and then databases and spreadsheets and all sorts of things.”

In 1989, Karen resigned from her full-time position on a Friday and came back to work on Monday as a casual, just a few months before giving birth to her daughter.

“I was a casual from October 1989 to until 2017. 26 years! I reckon I might have the longest history as a casual! At Bundamba at the very least!”

“Being casual was helpful while I had my children, it meant I was able to be a bit more flexible. I’d been teaching more classes which meant I could work at night and during the school holidays when I wasn’t working in admin. I just loved teaching! I was so glad I’d jumped at the opportunity.”

In 2017, Karen was made permanent once again. With a smile on her face, she remembers some of the funnier parts of teaching.

“I was thinking about floppy disks! What a blast from the past. I remember we had double floppy’s with about 20 megabytes of hard drive space back then. Minuscule compared to today.” She notes. “I’d stand at the front of the classroom and say, ‘everybody put this one in and we’d get started.”

If you weren’t exposed to the floppy disk, you can compare them to a less sophisticated (but still impressive at the time!) version of a USB. Flat, square, and around 5.25 Inches diameter, they held both data and programs and you inserted them into your computer.

Karen’s career with TAFE Queensland has been marked by her ability to problem solve and jump in where needed. Skills she uses as a chat operator on our website today.

“You know, I really do miss teaching. But I find solace in knowing I’m playing my part in helping our students become the best they can be.”

In many ways, she's come full circle: from teaching staff and students how to use a computer, to now helping people navigate our website and choose their best path of study.

Her role may have changed, but her calling has stayed the same.

Speaking with Karen, you can quickly sense how passionate she is about seeing students thrive.

“I love seeing the penny drop when someone is frustrated and can’t figure something out and then you give them some clues and they solve it. It’s always been a privilege to witness the a-ha moments.”

“We’re such a big organisation now, and with that comes some dots that maybe aren’t joined yet. I love that I can connect the dots for people and send them on their way. It does feel a bit like I’ve been doing that my whole career.”