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Home » Discover Rackham » Student Spotlight: Yasmin Cole-Lewis

Attending a conference can be a transformative experience for graduate students. That is the case for Yasmin Cole-Lewis, on many levels. While a conference she attended last year provided great research and networking opportunities, it was a casual conversation with someone that stuck with her. She laughs when she recalls, “Someone asked me what my hobbies were and I sort of panicked – I didn’t have any hobbies. I came back on a quest to find a hobby.” Recent attempts have been snowboarding and climbing – both of which she loved. She adds, “I got a DSLR camera for my birthday and I hope to learn how to use it. I’d like to take a class in photography next.”

Yasmin was born and raised in an Atlanta suburb to parents from Sierra Leone. She majored in Cultural Anthropology at nearby Emory University. She shifted gears a few times after college, finding her way to U-M over the course of a few years: “After undergrad, I always knew I wanted to do something where I was working with and helping people but I didn’t want to be a medical doctor. I found public health and completed a Master’s of Public Health in Health Behavior and Health Education at UNC- Chapel Hill.”

“My faculty advisor there and still current mentor, Dr. Wizdom Powell-Hammond, received her M.P.H. and Ph.D. from Michigan. I worked with her in her research lab, focusing on African American men’s health issues. I loved what I was learning but wanted something a little different. I was always interested in education and health, and wanted to explore the education piece as well. Working with Wizdom was a way to think about psychology and think about public health in different ways, how they fit together. Wizdom encouraged me to explore that and reached out to her networks on my behalf. I learned a lot through her.”

After a great year working at a healthcare technology company in Baltimore, Yasmin settled on the Combined Program in Education and Psychology (CPEP) Program at U-M. While she says she loved the program and people there, she spent the first year trying to figure out where she was going and revisiting her initial experiences and goals. She says, “I started to feel like I needed more experiences working with individuals and with clinical training, and to continue thinking about health outcomes, so I switched programs to Clinical Psychology.”

“I’m most thankful for all of the supportive people that I’ve encountered here. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’ve done without the people around me, ahead of me or behind me. They were really supportive, wanting to help me figure it out and make the best decision for me. I don’t know how many other people can say that about their faculty or university. I’ll never forget that about being here at Michigan. People made it clear to me they were really here to support my development. I’m also very thankful to have received a really good funding package here, down to things like health care. Not having to worry about things like that makes it easier to focus on schoolwork. I wear glasses and contacts, and being able to go to the eye doctor and dentist is amazing, things we don't always think about but are so important.”

A fourth year doctoral candidate, Yasmin’s thrilled with her faculty mentor, Cheryl King, saying, “She has such a deep understanding of research and clinical work, and she balances it with her personal life. I’m so blessed to be working with her.” Yasmin’s dissertation will stem from research on Dr. King’s LET’s CONNECT project, a community based intervention program in Flint designed to impact the connectedness in youth who struggle interpersonally. She is working with those youth and their mentors to help them identify ways they can help build those supports and be more connected with their schools despite their interpersonal concerns.

Above and beyond preparing for her dissertation, Yasmin has been immersed in the clinical setting and teaching. She describes, “Teaching took up so much time, but I really, really liked it. Learning how to work with students and manage time was really important for me. Clinical work is taxing, but through it I’m learning more about different opportunities. I’ve had the opportunity to train in a number of different settings so I’ve gotten a really good mix. My most recent experience is in pediatric psychology, which suits me because it incorporates both physical and mental health, and I enjoy working with children who have chronic illnesses or other significant medical concerns. It’s a nice way to see both those things at the same time and I really enjoy learning about it. I always wanted to work with people and I have that through clinical work. I’m able to do more of that now and really enjoy learning through practice. I learn about people every day.”

Yasmin’s been involved in a number of groups and programs that provided her with a meaningful student support network. She says, “Programs like AGEP, RMF events, the Black Student Psychology Association are so, so helpful. The funding for conferences, professional development through Rackham, that level of community and support has been immeasurable through my career here.”

Yasmin’s been a strong presence in a variety of minority recruitment and retention efforts at Rackham and in her department. She is a member of the Department of Psychology’s Diversity Committee, whose flagship event is a recruitment weekend which she says, “is wildly successful. Students come from all over the country. We host panels, faculty share their research, we answer tons of questions, have dinner. Many of our faculty and students all turn out. Programs like this that really try to reach out to minority students and show that they are a valuable part of the community and show the level of support they’ll have are really important to me.”

Her best experience at U-M was working with Rackham’s Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP), designed to give underrepresented minority undergraduates an intensive pre-grad school experience. She says, “l loved working with SROP. It was such a good way to learn more about Rackham and meet different people in the university, learn about other careers outside of research, and get to work with students who were super motivated, bright young folks who were invested and so talented and excited to be here. I got to share Michigan with them and remind myself how much we have here. I’m still in touch with some of the students.”

Yasmin is hoping for the trifecta when she completes her doctorate: research, teaching and clinical work: “I know that I want to be in a place that allows me to do a range of different things; research, teaching and clinical work. I’m considering an academic medical center and something in the field of pediatric psychology in a place where I can have balance between teaching, clinical and research work.”