‘The University Has Fulfilled Everything I Was Looking for in a Program’
A candidate in the University’s graduate program in community psychology, Azza Hussein ’23 M.A. has focused her research and volunteer work on empowering and supporting immigrants and refugees. During her time as a Charger, she has discovered her own passion for research and the impact she hopes to continue to have in ensuring that others have a voice.
February 27, 2023
By Jackie Hennessey, Contributing Writer
Last spring, when Azza Hussein ’23 M.A. was meeting with her community psychology thesis adviser, Melissa Whitson, Ph.D., to talk about her project, she says, “I was blank. I didn’t know what to do.” It turns out that Dr. Whitson, professor and program coordinator, had led her toward a topic. Hussein just hadn’t quite realized it yet.
Hussein initially met Dr. Whitson when she visited campus the summer before starting as a graduate student. Hussein, who grew up in Northern Virginia, was the child of immigrants who came to the U.S. from Sudan, and she’d long volunteered in the Sudanese American community in Virginia. She talked with Dr. Whitson about how she wanted to expand her understanding of and research into immigrant and refugee communities.
‘I want to explore themes of identity and community’
This past summer, Hussein worked in IRIS’s summer learning program with very young children. In September, she was hired as a leadership coordinator working with adolescent refugees, primarily girls who were from Afghanistan, Sudan, Congo, Tanzania, and Chad.
As soon as she began listening to them talk about their lives, a thesis idea took shape.
“There’s not much research on adolescent refugee girls and their experiences,” she says. She decided her thesis would be a photo-voice project through which the young women in the leadership program chronicled their lives in photos and captions.
“Photo voice is a research methodology, typically used with people from marginalized backgrounds who often don’t have a platform to discuss their identity or their feelings,” she explains. “People usually express those things for them. This gives the power back to them.”
“I want to explore themes of identity and community with them through the photos they take and the narratives – captions – they write and see what themes emerge,” Hussein continues. “I hope to discover a through-line between all the photos. I keep telling the girls that while this is part of my thesis, it’s all up to them. It’s an emergent methodology.”
‘I’ve gained so many important skills’
Having the opportunity to do original, cutting-edge research is one of the reasons Hussein says she was drawn to the University’s graduate program in community psychology. She earned her bachelors’ degree in psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and knew she eventually wanted to pursue a doctorate. But first, she explains, “I felt I needed to fine tune my research interests and research skills.”
Hussein liked that the community psychology program also had a second-year internship component. “I wanted to be prepared for the working world – for all different scenarios,” she said.
From the start, she says, she found both. The program evaluation course with Assistant Professor Rosemarie Lillie Macias, Ph.D. interested her in working in the field after graduating. A major project in the course involved developing a program evaluation for an organization.
Hussein worked with KNOWNpreneurs Growth Lab, a business accelerator for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC)-owned businesses in the New Haven area. She met with staff and with alumni of the program; researched program evaluation surveys; and developed and administered an evaluation survey; and presented a report of her findings to the staff. “I’ve gained so many important skills from the course,” she says.
‘Something I’m very passionate about’
That real-world experience extends into her internship at the Yale School of Medicine, where she is helping to administer an evaluation of a women’s leadership development program. She also works with Amber Wimsatt Childs, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale, in support of the Getting Racism Out of Our Work (GROW) curriculum Dr. Childs co-developed for faculty- clinical supervisors. According to the Yale School of Medicine, it focuses on ways to “discuss race and racism in supervision.”
Hussein says the Yale faculty members she works with have been “great sources of support in my career interests and my research interests. Working with them on these projects has been very informative and helpful. These are invaluable experiences.”
When she’s not doing her research, taking courses, working at IRIS or interning at Yale, Hussein volunteers with Sanctuary Kitchen, which provides professional development and employment for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in Greater New Haven.
Hussein is happy she chose the University. “Our cohort is close knit, and everyone is so talented and kind, and we learn all the time from one another,” she says. “My professors have been extremely approachable and intelligent, and it’s great to learn and gain experience from them. The University has fulfilled everything I was looking for in a program.”
With Commencement around the corner, Hussein says she wants to continue to do research with women and adolescent refugees and immigrants before eventually pursuing her Ph.D. “There’s a gap in this research,” she says. “It’s something I’m very passionate about.”