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Karen Totaro

Karen Totaro

Executive VP/GM | San Diego Convention Center | Class of 1986

Little did Karen Totaro know at the time that a part-time gig hawking hot dogs and popcorn at the basketball home of the Illini in the '80s would lead where it did.

“My happy place as a student at the U of I was the Assembly Hall," says the program/event management major turned executive VP and general manager of the San Diego Convention Center. "I started working there to pay my tuition by serving hot dogs and popcorn.

"What I got beyond my paycheck was amazing friendships that have lasted 30-plus years with fellow students I was stuck in a booth making popcorn with for 14 hours.

"It gave me a focus, a passion and a successful career of operating major venues across the country.

“Last year, I ended my term as the chairman of the board of a 5,000-plus venue association of professionals who operate arenas, stadiums, performing art centers and convention centers across the globe. I still smile when I look back knowing it all started with hot dogs and popcorn at the Assembly Hall.”