Karma Palzom

Where were you born: Pokhara, Nepal

Where are you from: Madison, WI

Major: Tibetan American History

Interests/hobbies: Mentoring program for Tibetan high school students

Involvement on campus: Tibetan Student Association of Madison

Career Aspirations: I hope to obtain a PhD and work as a professor at a four-year university.

How has the Center for Academic Excellence and the Academic Advancement Program contributed to your success as a student?

The Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) was an important resource for me because they provided tutoring and professional development workshops. I learned how to study smarter by receiving support in difficult introductory courses and my peer mentor offered me advice on managing my time and being successful on campus. In terms of community service, I participated in an alternative break my Freshman year offered through the Academic Advancement Program (AAP). We got to travel to North Carolina and volunteered by building homes for Habitat for Humanity.

Moreover, CAE has tremendously helped me both in my academic and personal growth. During the beginning of my undergraduate career, I had a difficult time declaring a major. My AAP Advisor Dr. Linda McCarroll Stamm encouraged me to explore courses that aligned with my interests. Eventually, I decided to pursue a joint major in History and History of Science and participated in the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program conducting research on Tibetan exiles in the United States. I am thankful for the patience and confidence that she had in me while I committed to a career path that fit my passion. There are a few people in my life who I am grateful for in guiding me through my educational endeavors, and I credit my AAP Advisor as one of them. Because of her support, I am now a doctoral student at the UW-Madison History Department and work as a graduate teaching assistant.

What was your favorite course at UW-Madison?

Sociology 134 was my favorite course I took as an undergrad at UW-Madison. The course focused on structural racism in the United States and the ways in which laws and institutions oppressed people of color. Growing up as an Asian immigrant in Wisconsin, I did not know how to articulate the racialized experiences I had with my classmates or the interactions other non-Asian, non-white people had with whites. Looking back at my K12 education, this course gave me insight on the emphasis of euro-centric social studies classes teachers taught and the absence of bottom-up history or the impact ordinary people like Asian immigrants or minority college students made to American history. In addition, taking the class provided me with the tools to engage in productive discussions with my peers on critical issues affecting students of color on campus.

Describe your Wisconsin Experience?

Attending UW-Madison through the PEOPLE Program scholarship, CAE, and conducting research in the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, I learned the importance of using my knowledge in the classroom to support the Madison community and beyond. I recognized that it is not just about absorbing information from textbooks and being successful, but using what I know to uplift my community and engage with critical issues that affect vulnerable populations.

Particularly, I established a mentoring program for Tibetan high school youth called the Wisconsin Lamton Mentoring Program. I wanted to create a space for these students to understand the value of a college education but also to demystify what college is really about. The first year of Lamton, I took the students to a Communication Arts lecture where the professor taught the class about hybrid identities. As Tibetan Americans, this lecture was ideal for my students to learn about themselves and to also be in a college setting.

What was a memorable experience you had in college?

A memorable experience I had in college was actually a year after I graduated. In my first year as a doctoral student in the History department, CAE staff asked me to Emcee the 2015 AAP graduation. I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to give back to the program that had done a lot for my undergraduate education. On the day of the event, I presented certificates and awards to the graduates. After the graduation program concluded, I realized I made a major milestone in my career goal. As an undergrad, I was hesitant and nervous to talk to a big group of people, much less emcee for a whole hour. Being in a platform where I faced my fears of public speaking, I felt very accomplished about how far I have come along. I am thankful and proud to be a part of a supportive program that always welcomed me with open arms.

What advice would you give first-year students in order to ease their transition from high school to college?

A piece of advice I would give first-year college students is to always put in the effort, give all you can, but do not seek perfection. Many times in college I was hung up about my pitfalls in my coursework and not being great at everything I did. I realized that it is OK to have high expectations of yourself but it is also OK to make mistakes. If you have never failed, you cannot rejoice in your successes. The hard times build your character and wisdom comes from memorable experiences, good and bad.

Still as a doctoral student, I have to remind myself that I have to be confident that the work I produce as a scholar and author is the best I can give, and the best I can give is good enough. My graduate advisor and friend gave me two valuable pieces of advice. One, everything you do, whether people see it or not, shapes you into how you think like, and how you act like, and how people perceive you. You cannot ignore the small things because the small things matter in the long run. And last, from her own words, “greatness is about subjecting yourself to always improving, being coachable, and constant practice.” She always stresses to me to enjoy the process of watching myself grow and keep at it. As an incoming Freshman, use the four years to be selfish with your time and be enthusiastic about blossoming into the best version you can be.