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March 22, 2019

Alumni Spotlight: Kai Chitaphong '97 (Social Work) and '02 (Master of Social Work) Assistant Behavioral Health Chief Director and Consultant, Office of the Surgeon General

As a new Christian, Roberts was a place for Kai Chitaphong ‘97 to build a foundation of faith that has shaped his life intellectually, professionally and spiritually. Now in a distinguished career related to Behavioral Health, it’s ironic that Kai struggled through his initial class in Abnormal Psychology as a Social Work major! Looking back, he can clearly see how God orchestrated a series of events that led him into a field that, at first, did not seem to be a fit.

Key faculty and staff at Roberts were instrumental in mentoring Kai during his time at Roberts. Dr. Bassett challenged Kai to view the field of Psychology “from different perspectives without losing your own”. Dr. Basinger provided spiritual guidance to Kai as he explored his new faith. And his soccer coach, Greg Gidman, mentored Kai and welcomed him back to the team after frustration had caused him to quit. All of these experiences on campus have influenced Kai’s story as he moved on to earn a Master of Social Work ’02 then Ph.D. from the University of Rochester, actively serving in the professional field of social work.

After just a few years working full time and also serving in the Army Reserves, Kai was deployed to Central Iraq in 2004. He served for 18 months as Behavioral Health Officer-in-Charge during this and a subsequent deployment to Southern Iraq in 2010. From 2017-2018 Kai was deployed state-side at West Point Military Academy as Chief of Social Work and Family Advocacy. He is now based in Washington D.C. fulfilling the role of Assistant Behavioral Health Chief Director and Consultant for the VITAL (Veteran’s Integration to Academic Leadership) program within the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. In this position, Kai equips the department to support healthy soldier transitions from combat zones to civilian life, addressing barriers to their health and educational pursuits. Kai is extremely thankful for the support of his loving wife Amanda and their four children during his time overseas and frequent travel.

Looking back on his spiritual and professional journey, Kai can not only see the hand of God in leading him to the field of social work but also the impact of his solid preparation at Roberts Wesleyan. “I felt intellectually challenged, in a safe environment inside and outside the classroom,” he says. “This foundation allowed me to grow as a person and in my faith.” Kai has fond memories of being in class with professors and classmates who actively listened and learned from one another and of late nights with friends sharing spicy ramen and great laughs! His advice to current students is that they bring their life and deepest aspirations to God and He will bless them beyond measure. To fellow alumni, Kai says, “I am proud to call myself a Roberts alum and to be in the same fellowship with all of you!”

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