FACULTY PROFILE: Mindi Thompson
Counseling Psychology professor sees world through social class lens
When Mindi Thompson was growing up in Michigan, getting her doctorate and becoming a professor was the furthest things from her mind.
“I would never have even considered those possibilities,” Thompson said.
It wasn’t until she was an undergraduate at Kalamazoo College that those previously unimagined options started to become a reality.
“It was a mentor, Karyn Boatwright, who said, ‘Maybe you should go to graduate school to pursue a PhD.’”
While she was lucky enough to have mentors in the Psychology Departments at Kalamazoo College and The University of Akron, where she completed her Master's and Ph.D., who opened doors to opportunities that she didn’t think were available to her, others aren’t so lucky.
An individual’s social status influences the height they think they can reach on society’s ladder. Thompson’s own upbringing showed her that.
“Social class has always been a salient part of my own experience. The way I see the world is through a social class lens. “
This understanding drives Thompson’s work as an assistant professor in the School of Education’s Counseling Psychology department. She researches how individuals see their opportunities and how factors such as social class, race/ethnicity, and gender affect their impressions.
“Context has always been really important to me. So, understanding the context through which people see the world, the way I see the world, and how that influences our everyday behaviors and choices about education, career, and wellness is central to what I do.”
Her current research reflects that, including several projects looking at the way unemployment not only affects the person who is unemployed, but also how their unemployed status affects the outlook of their children towards education and achievement. She’s also investigating mental health disparities and the psychotherapy experiences among low-income clients. Someday, she hopes that her research will positively affect policy related to higher education achievement and mental health disparity.
Her position at the School of Education doesn’t just offer her the chance to do research that may have a direct, positive effect on other’s lives. And for that she’s glad.
“My passion is to truly embrace the role of scientist/practitioner/advocate. I enjoy all parts of being a psychologist….research, advocacy, clinical work, and teaching. That’s at the core of why I do what I do and why I do them here.”
A tenure-track faculty member, Thompson is also a licensed psychologist in Wisconsin, who provides low-cost and pro bono counseling services locally on a limited basis.
“If I’m training future counselors and psychologists, it’s important that I’m engaged in that work as well.”
In addition, she is passionate about the consultation class she’s taught since arriving at School of Education. It offers graduate students hands on experience working with community groups on projects important to those organizations. She has supervised the completion of 37 consultation projects for organizations and departments across UW and the state - for example, Madison College, UW’s University Health Services Violence Prevention Program, the PEOPLE Program, Madison West High School.
“I’m really passionate about that class. It connects with my works as scientist, practitioner, and advocate and allows me to use my entire skill set and to train students to hopefully be inspired to do the same.”