|UST Graduate Aims for International Mental Health Career|
As an entering freshman, Sayyeda Yesha Ali had four years of college courses precisely planned.
She would major in biology at the University of St Thomas, and after graduation, attend medical school. But, in what Ali calls a “life lesson,” her plans changed after taking a general psychology class from Dr. Elizabeth Maynard, assistant professor of psychology.
“She was speaking a language that I could understand. The language of psychology,” Ali said. “I took it in high school, but never thought it would be a profession for me.”
After several more courses with Dr. Maynard, Ali decided to make psychology her major and keep biology as a minor. She’s still pre-med, but classes like organic chemistry required so many hours of study that Ali felt it was hindering her personal growth. “I knew there was something more out there,” she said.
A devout Muslim, Ali now dreams of becoming a psychiatrist and working in an Arabic-speaking country, where mental health professionals are greatly needed. She has already taken several semesters of Arabic and plans to continue after graduation on Saturday, May 16 at Reliant Arena.
“I would never have thought of becoming a psychiatrist, if not for Dr. Maynard,” Ali said with great enthusiasm. She looks at the professor as a mentor and role model.
It’s obvious the feeling is mutual.
“Some of the things that are really neat about Yesha that she is not only academic and gifted in critical thinking, but also has that genuine concern for other human beings and a real warmth,” Maynard said. “It’s the warmth that allows her to connect with people. A mental health professional needs both scientific and human sides.”
That shows in her choice of volunteer work, such as teaching English to Iraqi refugee children at Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston.
Born on Long Island, her parents are from Pakistan. When she was five, the family moved to Houston and she considers herself a Houstonian.
As a junior at Clements High School in Fort Bend County, Ali researched a number of colleges and picked UST because it was a small, private university, with a good teacher-student ratio and lots of interaction with the faculty. She also wanted to stay closer to home.
Because Ali is a practicing Muslim, though she does not wear a head scarf or hijab, several students asked why she decided to attend a Catholic university.
“I told them: ‘Well, my faith and reason led me here. I have respect for all religions. I respect what you believe and I hope you respect what I believe,’” she said. “That is the beauty of diversity. I never felt my religion would be a big issue here and it hasn’t. I think more people are much more interested now in Islam.”
Ali will to take a year off before she applies to medical or graduate school. During the break, Ali plans to work with children with autism.