Student affiliate since 2009
Career path: Mohamed earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from San Diego State University in May and is applying to social psychology doctoral programs. “Ten years from now, I want to be teaching and doing research,” she says.
A supportive family: Mohamed’s parents left Somalia in 1988 to escape the country’s political violence and seek better economic opportunities. Mohamed was born in Dallas in 1990, but soon after, her family moved to San Diego’s ethnically diverse City Heights neighborhood. Her father wanted Hafsa — the first of his eight children — to become a physician or a lawyer rather than a psychologist. But he changed his mind when she won an award at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Orlando, Fla. Now, he’s one of her biggest supporters. He approved her plans to travel for a research internship for the past two summers, despite his friends’ admonishing him for letting his daughter venture out alone. “I’m really lucky to have my dad on my side,” she says.
Challenging assumptions: As an undergraduate, she worked in the lab of Thierry Devos, PhD, and received funding and training from the NIH-sponsored Minority Biomedical Research Support program. For her senior honors thesis, Mohamed studied the implicit bias people have to ascribe the American identity more to European Americans, even if they explicitly endorse multicultural values. That bias cuts close to her own experiences since some people she meets don’t perceive her as American. People still ask her, “Where are you from?” and seem surprised when she responds, “Here,” Mohamed says. “Being an American, it’s part of who I am … and when people assume that that identity is not part of who I am, it does affect me,” she says.
Developing as a leader: As president of the Somali Student Union last school year, Mohamed helped Somali students find faculty mentors and build social networks with fellow students. Many Somali students, particularly women, she says, are reluctant to seek out mentors.
“The reason I got involved was to help Somali students, the same way that professors have helped me,” she says.
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