Kablia Thao2019 Rising Alumni

Kablia Thao

Kablia Thao is the Director of National Engagement for the University of Minnesota Alumni Association. In her role, Kablia engages 27 national alumni networks from New York to Los Angeles and supports local alumni volunteers who are bringing Gophers together. On campus, she worked with admissions to strategically leverage alumni in recruiting geographically diverse students to the University. She also leads the Alumni Association’s annual Day of Service, when alumni in the Twin Cities, across the nation, and around the world are encouraged to volunteer in their communities. Kablia is a proud first-generation Hmong American and the first in her family to receive a master’s degree. She says CEHD and her human resource development degree provided a life-changing student experience that set her up to succeed in an ever-changing global society.

Current Job

Director of National Engagement, University of Minnesota Alumni Association

CEHD Degree

MEd Human Resource Development, 2016
Adult Education Certificate, 2017

Volunteer activities

I volunteer my time with Open Arms, the city of Crystal, Memory Lane Park, and the Phalen Lakes Study Magnet. I am also a member of the Joint Community Police Partnership Multicultural Advisory Committee and a study abroad scholarship reviewer for the University of Minnesota Learning Abroad Center. I’m also a co-communications chair and co-development chair for the Minnesota Association of Counselors of Color.

Awards or honors from collegiate, professional, or volunteer experiences

I received the Rising Leader Award from the Minnesota Association of Counselors of Color and a Guiding the Way to Inclusion Grant from the Minnesota Association of Counselors for Admission Counseling.

What is your favorite memory from the University of Minnesota?

I have had the incredible pleasure of having many amazing University of Minnesota memories, but my favorite memory would have to be walking at commencement to receive my Masters of Education in Human Resource Development degree from CEHD. To be honest, months prior I had decided not to walk at commencement, but about two weeks before commencement I had a change of heart. When I had decided not to walk, my decision was based solely on convenience. I was floored when my family shared that it would mean a great deal to them if I walked. I am a proud first generation Hmong American and the first in my family to receive a masters. I did not realize walking at commencement would hold such profound meaning to my family. At the time, it seemed impossible to be able to complete the graduation checklist within a two-week time frame. To this day, I am incredibly grateful to my adviser, Louis Quast. Quast, without judgement, sprang into action connecting with the right people to ensure, if I completed my checklist, I would be able to walk during commencement. Walking at commencement was an incredible memory and the perfect tribute to the many sacrifices my family has made to be able to simply provide me access to education.

What professor(s) or course(s) were most influential during your time in CEHD?

There are so many amazing professors and courses at CEHD. One of the most influential classes I took was International Human Resource Development taught by Alexandre Ardichvili. It was a course that showcased and explored international and cross-cultural aspects of human resource development. I use and share much of what I learned from that specific course to this day.

What was the impact and benefit of your educational experience in CEHD?

CEHD provided me a life-changing student experience that has set me up to succeed in an ever-changing global society. The skills I have gained and the connections I have made through CEHD have enriched both my professional and personal life.

Who has inspired you the most during your career?

There have been many inspiring individuals throughout my career and I am grateful for each and every one of them. My parents hold a very special place among these amazing individuals. I truly could not be where I am today in my career without the never-ending support my parents have selflessly given me.

Outside of your job, how do you grow professionally?

There are two primary things I do to grow professionally outside my job. I read as much as I can possibly consume. I read articles, books, blogs, and just about anything that has the potential to help make me a better person and professional. Second, connect, connect, connect. I do my best to maintain a healthy network of people who I aspire to learn from.

What skills are important to succeed as an emerging professional today?

To succeed as an emerging professional today, it is important to have the ability to collaborate with others.

When you have 30 minutes of free time, what do you do?

If you find me with 30 minutes of free time, you will likely catch me searching the internet for a great recipe. I love to cook, but I am not a very good chef. Lucky for me, there are many amazing chefs out in the world willing to share their knowledge. Cooking is my favorite way to unwind after a workday. It gives me the opportunity to create with my hands and center my thoughts.

How do others describe you?

Kind and thoughtful. Strategic and hardworking. Quirky and loving.

How do you describe yourself?

A person who strives to be kind.

What's a good book you'd recommend to others?

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman.

If you could have coffee with anyone from history, who would it be?

If I could have coffee with anyone from history I would choose to have coffee with CIA Agent Jerry Daniels who served as an agency liaison to General Vang Pao during the secret war in Laos. Daniels' story is incredibly fascinating on many levels. He was born and raised in Montana, recruited by the CIA, and ultimately became the bridge between the western powerhouse United States and the Hmong people. His life story on its own makes him a strong candidate for this "historical coffee break,” but perhaps it is the mystery surrounding his death in 1982 that seals the deal. Truly, a podcast worthy mystery. In 1982 Daniels died of "carbon dioxide poisoning" in Thailand. They shipped his body back to Montana where a traditional Hmong funeral was performed for him. Cue the mystery... during the funeral there was a request to open the casket because a closed casket did not align with Hmong tradition. Authorities there that day would not allow for the casket to be opened due to the state of Daniels’ body. Many of the Hmong elders performing the traditional funeral for Daniels did not believe it was his body in the casket. He was known for being a tall man and elders felt the casket was too small for someone of his height. Questions and skepticism swirled for decades, ultimately leading to the exhumation of Daniels' body in 2017.

What gets you excited about work?

At my very core, I simply just love people. As the Director of National Engagement at the University of Minnesota Alumni Association, I have the incredibly pleasure of meeting and connecting with alumni all over the United States. It is these opportunities to hear the stories of amazing alumni that keep me continuously excited about my work.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher like my mom.

What is a "fun fact" about you?

I secretly love to do jigsaw puzzles on my cell phone because once the puzzle is completed I do not have to figure out what to do with it or where to store it. Game changer.