ALUMNI PROFILE: Karen Tao
Graduate discovers passion for teaching, training new generation of counselors
Karen Tao (ph.D. '06) loves teaching.
As a teaching assistant in the Counseling Psychology Department, Karen watched faculty associate Corissa Lotta teach courses and thought, “ I would love to have her job.”
Now she does.
Since 2010, Karen has been an assistant professor (clinical) at the University of Utah Department of Educational Psychology, where her primary role is to teach and train new counselors.
That she became an educator is not a surprise. As she says, “Teaching has always been in the family.” Her mother was an elementary and middle school librarian who instilled the love of reading in hundreds of kids. And her maternal grandmother and grandfather were a music teacher and principal, respectively.
“I remember my mother teaching my second grade class how to conduct our first research project using library references and resources. Mine was on the giant panda…we even had to include a reference page.”
Despite teaching being “the family business” so to speak, when Karen came to the UW-Madison Counseling Psychology program, she didn’t intend to become a professor; she intended to be a therapist.
Working as a teaching assistant changed that, as did being involved in the Academic Enhancement Seminars, a Counseling Psychology program geared to helping students on academic probation improve their study habits and grades.
“We had a lot of autonomy; giving lectures, developing lesson plans. That’s when I realized I really loved teaching.”
Karen also credits University Health Service Counseling and Consultation Services for much of her professional practicum and counseling training. She spent time there as a student and later returned as a staff counselor.
“It was a huge gift for me. Going from a trainee to being in a leadership position. I owe a lot to the counseling center.”
But perhaps no person was more important to her UW-Madison experience than Dr. Alberta Gloria, the current chair of the Department of Counseling Psychology.
“I knew early on from my Master's program that the success of any student in graduate school is mentorship. Especially being a woman of color in a predominantly white university. Dr. Gloria was my research mentor, but also my social mentor. I wouldn’t have gotten through the program without her.”
And even though she’s originally from Hawaii, her heart still draws her back to Madison.
“I really miss Madison. It’s a great community, both socially and academically. It’s where I met my partner and made some of the best friends I have. I have two big periods of growing up, childhood and Madison. I developed my professional identity there and really became who I am.”