The time commitment for being an athlete in college is notorious, independent of chosen major. For Karen Saah, being both a student and an athlete meant participating in three varsity-level sports while earning a dual degree from Wharton and the College.
Saah is currently a lawyer, a relatively uncommon path for college athletes. Her undergraduate tenure didn't necessarily predict such a development either; Saah earned a B.S. in marketing along with a B.A. in International Relations from Penn while she was a member of the varsity field hockey, track and field, and lacrosse teams.
Field hockey is where Saah left her strongest mark. A current member of the Field Hockey Alumni Board, Saah’s impact on the team was noted ever since she joined; Saah was the only freshman on the traveling team, a team with high expectations levied upon its shoulders after winning five Ivy League titles in the 1980s.
In the 1990 season, Saah was a key part of keeping the team’s Ivy League title hopes alive, even as a sophomore. One pivotal moment was when Penn beat Princeton and improved their record to 3-0-1 in conference play. Saah scored the game-winning goal.
“It was a great win,” Saah said. “We knew it was one of our bigger games of the season."
The Quakers ultimately finished in second place, with a 4-0-2 record in the Ivy League. Saah’s contributions, however, did not stop there—as a junior, Saah was again noted as a key player. On her 20th birthday, Saah scored two goals to lead Penn to a 3-0 victory over Lafayette. The previous week, Saah had contributed another two goals to a 6-1 drubbing over Dartmouth.
“Karen’s taking very positive leadership out there,” then head coach Anne Sage said. “She’s making things happen. She knows what she wants to do with the ball and she’s doing it.”
The DP echoed this high praise, stating, “This type of brilliant and exciting play from Saah is a gift Penn hopes it can open time and time again throughout this season.” However, the Red and Blue would not win a championship in Saah’s freshman, sophomore, or junior years. In 1991, the seemingly indomitable juggernaut of 1980s field hockey teams was now struggling, with a meager 5th place in the Ivy League.
Saah helped change that in her final year with the team, when she garnered a second team All-Ivy nod. Though she didn’t score many points, her leadership was noted by assistant coach Val Cloud as a key reason why the Quakers finally clinched another championship in 1992.
“[They’ve meant] everything,” Cloud said. “It’s been a real motivation. [Saah and the other seniors] have been great leaders. On any good team you need leadership — somebody to keep them together. That’s what they’ve done.”
Perhaps even more remarkable was what Saah accomplished off the field. Saah, along with other seniors Michael Dal Bello, Beau Ances, and Michelle Peluso became a recipient of the Thouron Award, a fellowship that allowed selected Penn graduates to study at any university in the United Kingdom.
The selection for the award is intense and rigorous: after an evaluation of students’ general applications, a group of semifinalists is chosen to undergo a large, successive set of interviews. With her award, Saah earned a post-graduate diploma in Development Economics and International Development from the University of Cambridge. Saah went on to earn an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Then, despite intending to go into business, Saah decided instead to go to law school. Saah attended Stanford Law School, where she was a member of the Black Law Students Association, while also serving on the managing board of the Stanford Law Review. During her following time with Shearman and Sterling, Saah worked with the pro bono team to help Haitians apply for work visas after the 2010 earthquake.
Saah’s accomplishments follow naturally from her undergraduate successes. Her perseverance led to both an Ivy League title and the reception of a highly selective fellowship, followed by the surprising and remarkable path of attending Stanford Law School.
From her time at Penn to the present, Saah has been a paragon of excellence.