Growing up in Chicago, Krista Thomas knew she wanted to spend her life in a service profession, but she didn’t know which one.
“I had done some volunteering in high school, but I still had no idea what I was going to do for the rest of my life,” says Thomas, who will receive a master’s degree from the George Warren Brown School of Social Work today. “I figured I’d go to law school after college, but I really wasn’t focused at that point.”
While earning undergraduate degrees in Spanish and integrated international studies at Knox College, Thomas studied in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Barcelona, Spain.
“It was (then) that I started developing an interest in social justice because I felt very privileged and lucky to be getting this experience that just was not available to other people,” Thomas says.
“I didn’t know exactly what that meant for my future, but it definitely made me want to continue focusing my studies on Latin America.”
Instead of going directly to graduate school, Thomas spent a year volunteering at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, an orphanage in Nicaragua. She served as an English teacher for first- through sixth-graders and a housemother for 20 teenage girls.
“Besides increasing my level of fluency in Spanish, my work as a teacher and housemother made me finally realize that I wanted to go into social work,” Thomas says. “It was such a big relief to finally figure that out.
|George Warren Brown School of Social Work|
“Nothing else I was considering made much sense after I returned from Nicaragua.”
Thomas decided to go to GWB because of its strong program in social and economic development.
“I’ve focused my class work on immigration and immigrant-related issues,” Thomas says. “GWB has been rewarding. Besides dynamic faculty like Diane Elze, Tonya Edmond and Gautam Yadama, I’ve been able to work with impressive colleagues who have significantly contributed to my social work education.”
Her impressive work has not gone unnoticed by the GWB faculty.
“Krista is an outstanding example of the kind of great graduate students we have at GWB and Washington University,” says Edmond, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work.
“She’s unquestionably one of the brightest students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching, and it’s obvious that she is deeply committed to social justice.
“Krista possesses all the qualities that we look for and develop in social work students. I have absolute confidence that she will make a difference in any community in which she resides.”
Outside the classroom, Thomas served as co-chair of the GWB’s Student Coordinating Council (SCC).
“Being an SCC co-chair allowed me to work with a committed group of students dedicated to working together and creating positive change within GWB,” Thomas says.
She also served as a member of a committee that organized an April 3 event honoring Shanti K. Khinduka, Ph.D., dean and the George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor.
As part of her practicum studies, Thomas worked at Accion Social Comunitaria, a community-based social-service agency and medical clinic, where she developed and implemented a mentoring program for Latino youths in St. Louis.
She also worked at Catholic Family Services Hispanic Center, concentrating heavily on the Missouri In-State Tuition Campaign, which is working to pass legislation granting in-state tuition benefits to undocumented immigrant children.
“Advocates have been working on the bill for the last couple of years, and we’ve accomplished much more than we expected at this point,” Thomas says. “The bill already has two sponsors in the Missouri Senate and one in the House of Representatives. Hopefully, it will be up for a vote next year.”
Fortunately, Thomas will be able to keep an eye on her work because after Commencement, she will be working for the Department of Health and Human Services in the Administration for Children and Families in Chicago as a Presidential Management Fellow.
“Being granted this fellowship is a terrific honor, and I hope to be able to rise to the challenge these next few years,” she says. “I will be working with a population that I’ve never worked with before, and am thankful for the many resources available at GWB that I will definitely be utilizing in the near future.”
Thomas also hopes to be able to get back to her favorite diversion — basketball — once she begins work in Chicago.
“I’d love to join a basketball league again,” she says. “I played through college and I coached a high school in Chicago and in Nicaragua. Playing basketball regularly makes me much less crabby.”
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