Class Note: To the City of Brotherly Love

Tersia GabrielsenWhen Terisa Poulsen Gabrielsen finished her business management degree, the year was 1982 and the economy was bleak. Though she was determined to enter the business world, her best offer was a job teaching accounting at Salt Lake Community College. There, Gabrielsen discovered an unexpected love for teaching that kept her at the school for the next twenty-five years. Despite that love, she realized she had a job rather than a career. That realization became a turning point that would take her to the University of Utah, then to the streets of Philadelphia, and back to a BYU classroom.

Her new journey began because of her love for the autistic people she has met throughout her life. Experiences with these individuals eventually led her to the field of school psychology: “I accidentally tripped over it and found exactly what I wanted,” she says. “And once I found it, I never turned back”—even when her new career required a big move. As she wrapped up her PhD in educational psychology at the University of Utah, she was offered an internship with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), one of the top children’s hospitals in the country.

“The advice I got was go out of state. So I did,” she says. “We left our house, my husband left his job, and we went to Philadelphia, where we lived like students for two years.”

Her time as an intern and then as a post-doc fellow at the hospital’s Center for Autism Research became her best two years and her toughest.

“The intensity of training that I got in Philadelphia across a wide range of areas will benefit me for the rest of my career,” she says of CHOP’s interdisciplinary program. “When you are working with people at the top of their field, you just have to match their pace. They can teach you more in fifteen minutes than you could get in an entire semester.”

Her time at CHOP was just one part of her learning. The rest came from being immersed in a low-income community. “These Philly kids had never been in a swimming pool, never seen a cow, never seen the stars,” she says. “Some of them had never been out of the city.”

So when it came time to plan the local Halloween carnival, Gabrielsen was determined to create a quality experience. She invested in professional grade face paints and began studying up on creating complex princess and dragon masks—and had great success.

“I wanted to do it well,” she says. “It was insane to tackle but wildly popular. They sat patiently waiting in line for about an hour to have their turn. They got to have this really cool experience that other kids might take for granted.”

After completing her time at CHOP in 2013, Gabrielsen left Philly for Provo. She is now an assistant professor in the BYU school psychology program, where she combines her love of teaching with studying autism in teenagers and toddlers. She and her husband, Evan, live in Riverton, Utah. They have two children and five grandchildren—who all now benefit from her face-painting skills.

—Katie Pitts Olson

This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of Marriott Alumni MagazineRead more class notes in Alumni News.