Far From Her Native Argentina, Engineer Oversees Energy at MSU

Dec 9, 2013


Good morning, and Welcome to Around the World, Here at Home.

Today, we’re headed south – way south – to a land conquered by Spanish colonists in 1512 after rumors that it bore silver mountains.  It was home to the president Juan Peron and his popular wife, Eva, who inspired the Broadway musical “Evita.” Today, it’s the eighth largest country in the world, and the largest Spanish-speaking one:  Argentina.

Pilar Karlen oversees the energy consumption at Missouri State University in Springfield.  She was born in a small tourist town amidst the Andes mountains, then at age eight, moved to the capital of Buenos Aires—a city she describes as fascinating, eclectic, scary, and a melting pot.

Argentina, when it declared independence from Spain in 1816, welcomed immigrants from Italy, Spain, and other countries. Karlen says Argentina still sees itself as an immigrant country.

“Actually, most of us, we still maintain the same traditions from those countries. Many people speak those languages,” Karlen said.

Half of her family is Italian; the other half is from Germany and Switzerland. 

Karlen came to the United States with her family on vacations while she was an engineering student in Argentina;  she saw Miami, California, the Grand Canyon, New York, and Las Vegas.

“And after all of those places, I was like, ‘I need to go back,’” she recalls.

She enrolled in MSU’s English as a Second Language Program, which she describes as “outstanding.”  There, she learned about language, cultural misunderstandings, traditions, and things to do.

Argentines speak the Castellano dialect of Spanish, which can be understood by other Spanish speakers, Karlen says, but is very distinct.

“Every time I answer, they know I am in Argentina—even with my English accent, they can pick out that I’m from Argentina,” Karlen said.

She says she misses streets lined with unique, purple flowering trees, and sitting in outside cafes talking to strangers.

“Argentinians are very communicative, and very easy going. They like to meet people,” she said.

In her role at MSU, Karlen praises the team she works with. She keeps track of how well MSU is using energy, and decides what it can do better. 

“At this point, I think Missouri State is taking the lead, not only in the state of Missouri – but in a few years, we’re going to be energy leaders in the country,” she said.

Pilar Karlen, originally from Argentina, became a United States citizen in August. This has been Around the World, Here at Home on KSMU. I’m Jennifer Davidson.