This spring, clinical psychology graduate student Yesenia Mejia received a Graduate Research Fellowship Award from the National Science Foundation. The award consists of three years of support with a $34,000 stipend to the fellow as well as $12,000 for tuition fees per year.
The NSF’s Graduate Fellowship Program aims to encourage greater diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, and in STEM education; the fellowships are awarded based on “potential for significant research achievements” in those fields, according to the NSF’s application guidelines.
Working with her faculty mentor, Dr. Gabriela Livas Stein, Mejia’s research will investigate the ways in which familism and emotions of pride and shame about oneself predict academic achievement for Latino youth. Mejia explains familism as “a strong attachment to family, reciprocated loyalty and obligation, and a subjugation of self to one’s family.”
The Latino youth population has a high dropout rate and is underrepresented in the academic world. Mejia’s research will help inform new methods for motivating higher academic achievement and decreasing the achievement gap for Latino youth.
Throughout her academic career, Mejia has worked on several programs aiming to improve physical and mental health among vulnerable subsets of the Latino population. While pursuing a bachelor’s in psychology at the University of California, San Diego, Mejia helped create a culturally relevant therapy program for gay, Latino men with HIV and PTSD. She also served as a Wellness Peer Educator at UCSD’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center, where she developed and conducted workshops on psychological topics and organized on-campus events addressing mental health topics.
Mejia went on to participate in the University of Southern California’s Latino Mental Health International Research Training Program. As part of that program, she worked in Puebla, Mexico, on creating a health literacy program — focused on psychosis, or breaks from reality — for hard-to-reach communities. She also worked as a project assistant at USC on two additional projects that focused on psychosis literacy and treatment in the Latino population.
Mejia’s current research will extend her focus and will enrich understanding of the cultural and emotional forces at work in the Latino youth population.
Written by Hope Voorhees