Khu Thao (BF’05) was working in social services and supporting her husband through graduate school when she applied for a Bush Fellowship. Her hope was that pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology would increase her clinical skills, but the experience changed her personally as well. Today, she oversees service lines for adults with mental illness as the vice president of community mental health for Touchstone Mental Health in Bloomington, Minnesota.
What made you consider applying for the Fellowship?
My desire for equal opportunity: my wish to pursue higher education as a minority woman and to break down the barriers I encountered trying to find culturally appropriate services for the individuals I worked with. As a child-protection social worker, many families I worked with were from communities of color. It was difficult to find providers trained to work with diverse cultures, and even more challenging to locate providers of color. While I wanted to expand my skills and circle of influence, it was impossible to do so being the only income earner. The Bush Fellowship was the only hope I had of being able to work toward my goals.
What were your goals for after the Fellowship ended?
When I started my Fellowship, I just wanted to complete my doctorate. However, as I progressed through the program, I met incredible mentors who inspired me to do more and be more. I distinctly remember one of my internship supervisors telling me, “You may want to only be a clinician, but the field needs you to be a leader.” That was the first time I began to even consider what leadership meant and how it would look for me.
"Every day, I am grateful to be in a field that I love, doing work that inspires me. This would not have happened without the Fellowship and the individuals who made the decision to invest in my dreams."
Dr. Khu Thao
How has the Fellowship changed you?
Every day, I am grateful to be in a field that I love, doing work that inspires me. This would not have happened without the Fellowship and the individuals who made the decision to invest in my dreams. By granting me the Fellowship, I was given the message that someone like me — an Asian woman who grew up in the projects with uneducated parents — was worth investing in. I have carried that message forward, and now I do all that I can to support and invest in other young professionals or individuals from marginalized communities who aspire to do great things.
Where do you find inspiration to lead?
My daughters have been my greatest inspiration. It is important to me that my children and the next generation of girls are empowered to challenge stereotypes and other social barriers to success. I want them to strive for their dreams, feel that anything is possible, and to do this with ease and grace. The best way to teach this is to model it through everyday interactions.