A life and a career in service

Shaun Telepak head shot

Growing up, Shaun Telepak remembers her mother welcoming a number of foster kids into her childhood home. She hoped that one day she, too, would be the kind of selfless person who would take in other people’s children.

“My mom was a foster child, so I always wanted to do that,” Telepak says. “I always wanted to adopt.”

But first, Telepak wanted to serve her country, which she did for 26 years in the Army. During that time she also earned three degrees, starting with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in organizational leadership and project management. She also got married and had two children.

When she retired from the military, Telepak began the process of becoming a foster parent. During this time, she got to know many of the social workers and saw how much they impacted the lives of families and children, which led her to get her second master’s degree, this one in social work.

Now, Telepak is on a new path, pursuing sexual health training after seeing gaps in social work counseling services, especially for people of color.

Telepak says she was counseling an older Black couple who were trying to find an in-person sex therapist.

“When I started to look for sex-positive therapists it was hard here in San Antonio,” she says. After some research, she found that there were no Black sex therapists in the city.

“If they're coming to me, there has to be a greater need,” she realized. So Telepak reached out to Heather McPherson, founder of Sexual Health Alliance (SHA), for help. McPherson offered Telepak a position on the spot.

“I was asking about information,” says Telepak. “She's like, ‘You're absolutely right. Would you like to come work for us?’”

Telepak went on to earn her certification through the SHA on top of her three academic credentials, but she still thought she could use more training.

“Just being a Black woman, [I] feel like you have to have your credentials, and everything has to be in order to validate where you're coming from or what you're saying,” she says. “So I want to have the education behind this.”

She looked for programs that specialized in sex therapy and human sexuality and came across the U of M’s Master of Professional Studies in Sexual Health. “I found several programs, but the University of Minnesota contacted me first by phone and gave me everything I needed to know, so it was a no-brainer.”

She says the program has been fascinating, relevant, and up-to-date. “It's a fast-paced program, but the information is excellent. The professors make it very engaging, and it makes the time fly. It's hands-down, out of the colleges that I have degrees from, by far the best.”

In addition, Telepak has been able to take all of her classes online from her home in Texas—which is perfect for someone whose days are as packed as hers.

Telepak is also the mother of four kids, three of whom still live with her. She recently adopted a 14-year-old boy with autism and his little brother, who's 9.

“Thankfully, in the military I learned how to do schedules and multitask,” she says.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, she also runs her own life coaching company called How You Healing. But she still has more to learn, teach, and share: Telepak will start a doctoral program in social work this June.

“No one in my family has a PhD or is a medical doctor, and I always wanted to be the example,” she says.

See the original version of this story at the College of Continuing and Professional Studies.