Karen Teigister, recipient of the 2022 Edith Abbott Award, has had a remarkable career as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines, as a director of children and adolescent services for the Back of the Yards Community Mental Health Center, and as a respected educator and innovative administrator as Senior Lecturer and Deputy Dean for the Curriculum at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.
Her early foundational experiences, combined with her scholarship and innate leadership skills, guided her remarkable work in social work education. Karen was an inspiring teacher, leading advanced generalist methods, courses on treatment of children and parents, and clinical seminars. In recognition of the caliber of her teaching, in 1999, she was awarded the prestigious William Pollak Award for Excellence in Teaching.
In addition to her teaching, Karen led the professional development program at the Crown Family School for more than 20 years. Beyond her teaching responsibilities, as the School’s Deputy Dean for Curriculum, Karen guided curriculum development and implementation in the master’s degree program. One nominee said, “Karen’s stellar ability to see the big picture provided leadership for viewing field education and professional development as intertwined and indispensable to the social work profession.” Under her leadership, “synergy between student coursework, faculty research, field educators, and post-master professional development consistently expanded.”
Her innovations are still found in field models today, creating a shared learning environment for master’s students, faculty, and field educators. Her article, “New Approaches to Generalist Field Education,” published in the Journal of Social Work Education, outlined how two changes in field education at the Crown Family School helped connect the contemporary demands of social work more closely to the training of students. Those changes included collective learning, to broaden students’ understanding of settings and populations; and macro projects, intended to expand students’ understanding of assessment and intervention at multiple system levels with an agency.
At the same time, Karen introduced workshops that provided expanded professional development opportunities for field instructors. She also advocated vigorously for new funding and support for field education and helped organize, coordinate, and direct these campaigns.
In addition to leading new approaches to field education, Karen kept a close eye on changing demographics and the needs of the community. This attention led to new courses on aging, collaborations with specialists in aging and elder care, including Robin Golden, Darby Morhardt, Phyllis Mitzen, and Colleen Grogan, who helped introduce elder care issues into the master’s curriculum. In response to student and practitioner involvement, Karen played a key role in launching the Older Adult program of study. She successfully persuaded faculty colleagues to incorporate elder care and life span considerations into their course offerings, and helped establish a professional certificate focused on older adult care.
Karen’s innovative and practical leadership at the School helped advance changes in curriculum and training that continue to make impact in social work education.