Lower Columbia College Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Karen Fortuna


Karen Fortuna

Karen Fortuna, MSW, PhD

Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

Dr. Karen Fortuna credits starting at LCC with her success in community-engaged research

Dr. Karen Fortuna, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, just received a $575,065 grant to examine the role of peer support specialists in digital mental health. She holds a Master of Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania, a PhD in Social Welfare from Florida International University, and she started her educational journey at Lower Columbia College.

Karen's family moved to Longview from Connecticut when she was 14. Attending Huntington Junior High, she had to adjust to life in the Pacific Northwest. "The other kids all wanted to know why I talked so fast," she laughs, remembering.

After high school, Karen enrolled at LCC. Karen worked with Student Services to help her navigate the financial side of her education and to connect with campus resources.

Karen knew she was going to earn an Associate of Arts and liked the fact that she got to take a lot of different classes and explore different disciplines. Initially, she was drawn to writing, and she worked in the library as a writing tutor. It wasn't until she took a sociology class that things fell into place. "The social sciences just made sense to me, and I knew that's the career path I wanted to follow," she said. Karen even enrolled in a wilderness exploration class, traveling into the Northern Cascades to learn how to read maps and stay safe in the backcountry.

"Starting at LCC gave me time to explore in a supportive environment," Karen said. "Having time to figure myself out at that age gave me the confidence to take risks in the next phase of my life. I went on to get my master's degree, confident that I'd be able to navigate the next steps in my education."

Karen also credits growing up in Longview and her time at LCC with her success in community-engaged research. Her research is community-based, and she includes people with a lived experience of a mental health condition as equal partners in her research; although this group has been historically marginalized, Karen sees strength and value in everyone no matter what community or environment they come from. "Coming from a small town in the Pacific Northwest, I knew the strength of our community despite high rates of poverty, unemployment, etc. I bring this same perspective into my work. All people have value and strength despite any setbacks. My background may be a bit unusual, but it has helped me push the status quo and be innovative with communities," she said.

We're proud that Lower Columbia College was able to play a role in Karen's success.

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