Meet the new regent on the board: Bo Thao-Urabe

Regent Thao-Urabe sat down with the Minnesota Daily to discuss her experiences and goals of increasing access and equity at the University.

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Liam Armstrong

Regent Bo Thao-Urabe and her family at the recent regents meeting on Thursday, Sept. 9. The regents welcomed new member Bo Thao-Urabe, founder and Executive Director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders.

Matthew Voigt

The newest member of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents took part in her first full meeting as a board member on Oct. 7-8, bringing years of her experience in leadership roles at philanthropic organizations around the Twin Cities to the position.

An alumna of the University, Regent Bo Thao-Urabe is also an active member of the Asian American community in the area, having served in leadership roles across a multitude of organizations. Thao-Urabe, appointed by Gov. Tim Walz in August, fills the seat on the board previously occupied by Regent Ilean Her, who passed away earlier this year.

In a speech to the board after being sworn in, Thao-Urabe spoke of the mixed emotions of her appointment. Typically, regents are not appointed by the Governor, but elected by the Minnesota Legislature. Thao-Urabe will carry out the rest of Regent Her’s term through 2025.

“My appointment today is bittersweet because it’s at [Her’s] loss; it’s trailblazers like Regent Her who make this possible,” Thao-Urabe said at the September meeting. “I’m privileged and honored to serve in this capacity at my alma mater, as a refugee child who became a first generation college student. Getting my education here at the University allowed me to change the trajectory of my future.”

Thao-Urabe graduated from the University in what is now the College of Education and Human Development with a degree in Family Social Science. Thao-Urabe and her family came to the United States after conflicts in Southeast Asia during the mid-20th century.

She is also the founder and executive director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL). CAAL’s mission is to bring leaders of different backgrounds across the Asian American community together and provide a network for connections, education and collaboration.

Thao-Urabe’s experience of being a refugee and her education at the University have inspired her to play an active role in the Twin Cities Asian American community.

“[My experiences] set me up for being able to do a lot of different things for the community that I am a part of,” Thao-Urabe said. “[These experiences helped] to shape the ways in which our state and our country can continue to make sure that all its people have opportunities and are able to thrive here.”

Following the death of Her, Thao-Urabe was asked to consider becoming a regent. She said she felt she should continue Her’s legacy because of their similar stories and paths to the University. Her immigrated to the United States in 1976 as a refugee from Laos.

“[I] felt like it was an opportunity to … continue to both support the institution, but continue to help make sure that the future of the institution is accessible, is supportive, and help all students who wish to get an education here do so successfully,” Thao-Urabe said.

Bilal Alkatout, who serves as chair of the board of directors at CAAL and as senior program officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, said Thao-Urabe continues to be a mentor and inspiration in his current position.

“It’s super humbling and inspiring to see someone who is a leader in the Asian community with the ability to bring people along to find solutions to issues and advocate for those issues selected as a regent,” Alkatout said. “She’s always thinking about systems, systemic racism and structural changes that can [be made] to create equity.”

According to Alkatout, Thao-Urabe has a unique ability to think about the collective Asian American community, which has many identities and nationalities, and social movements both in and out of the community.

“Working across all identity groups that exist in the Asian American community takes a lot of cross-cultural understanding and trust building,” Alkatout said. “Bo’s ability to bring people along across all the cultural groups and languages takes a unique set of skills. It’ll be really amazing to see what happens.”

During her tenure as regent, Thao-Urabe said she hopes to not only contribute her experiences to the role, but also provide guidance and continue the University’s mission to be affordable to students.

“I personally care about costs, accessibility and care about the research and where it can take us in the future,“ Thao-Urabe said. “I know that I will have done my job if I’m able to bring perspective and help to also guide the future of the institution.”