Student Spotlight: Samirah Abellard

| Thu, 02/15/24
Samirah Abellard, a senior studying in the Department of Psychology at Florida State University, part of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Samirah Abellard, a senior studying in the Department of Psychology at Florida State University, part of the College of Arts and Sciences. Photo by Alexa Lowry.

Samirah Abellard is a senior studying in the Department of Psychology at Florida State University, part of the College of Arts and Sciences. She has participated in multiple research projects across a range of topics including social prejudices and minority barriers to mental health access. Abellard, who works on the FSU Information Technology Services’ Data Research Team as an ITS data research intern, plans to graduate in May 2024.

Tell us a little about your background, where you're from and what brought you to FSU.

I’m from Wellington, located in Palm Beach County, Florida. My parents didn't go to college, so their goal was for me to pursue higher education. When I was younger, I didn't really know what school I wanted to go to, but after taking a lot of college tours, I fell in love with FSU’s campus. I'm also grateful I'm able to receive debt-free education through the Bright Futures Academic Scholarship that covers my tuition costs and the Southern Scholarship Foundation that provides me with rent-free housing.

What inspired you to pursue a degree in psychology?

When I first started at FSU, I was an exploratory major unsure of what I wanted to pursue. During my freshman year, I took an introduction to psychology class, and I really enjoyed it. After this class, studying psychology was something I could see myself doing in the future, so I declared it as my major.

Tell me about your research regarding Black Americans’ experiences with therapy and barriers to mental health access.

During my second year at FSU, I participated in research with the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. I worked with Chélynn Randolph, an FSU doctoral student at the time, to conduct interviews with Black Americans ages 18-29 on their experiences with mental health services. As a Black woman, I have experienced the stigma associated with seeking mental health services. In my experience, some people in my community feel they can only get mental health assistance from the church or being in God’s presence. I went into this project thinking that the Black church was going to be a much bigger factor as to why many Black Americans do not seek therapy. Surprisingly, in our observations, we found a lot of people believe they can solve their problems alone, which is why they avoid therapy.

Tell us about being an undergraduate research assistant at the Plant Lab researching prejudice and biases.

I've been a research assistant in professor of psychology Ashby Plant’s lab since last August. Professor Plant studies prejudice, discrimination, and stereotyping across various ethnic, religious, and social groups. The Plant Lab studies the motivations of individuals to respond without prejudice as well as strategies to reduce prejudice. The most rewarding aspect of this position is doing hands-on work and being behind-the-scenes of a project’s highs and lows. The highs and lows are extremely important because research won’t always turn out the way you expect. I have experienced some setbacks within my own research, and although it can be frustrating, these setbacks allow me to learn even more about researching in general and the specific topics we are investigating.

What do you want the public to know about your research?

The most important aspect of my research is asking questions that help me learn something new. I want the public to know you can approach a project with a specific idea but end up learning many different things while conducting research. These unexpected findings lead you to ask more questions and pursue more research, sometimes down other paths.

How is your experience working as an intern on the data research team for FSU Information Technology Services?

FSU ITS conducts focus groups and takes surveys to improve its services, such as Duo Update and MyFSU mobile. Currently, I’m part of a group of six interns looking at data collected from those surveys and assigning responses to certain themes. This allows the culture engagement team to assess what improvements the department needs to make.

Do you have any current projects or goals that you're working toward?

Right now, I'm starting a research project for my data research team. I haven't narrowed down the topic just yet, but I want to look at improving Canvas, an online classroom portal, to better fulfill the needs of students and staff. I get to be the one in charge of this project and conduct the research myself, which has been very exciting.

Were there any faculty or staff members that have inspired you?

I've taken a couple classes taught by assistant professor of psychology Rasheda Haughbrook, and she's been extremely inspiring to me. I personally haven't met a lot of Black women with a doctoral degree, so learning from her makes me feel like I can make a difference in somebody’s life. I understand why her students speak so highly of her, and it’s inspiring to see all the hard work she has done to become established at FSU and trusted by her students.

What are you looking forward to most after you graduate?

After I graduate, I'm looking forward to traveling and doing the things I’ve wanted to do but am unable to because of school. I would like to travel to Japan, South Korea or Australia. I also hope to pursue a master's degree in information technology to learn more about user research and ways to improve the user experience when consuming technology.

What advice would you give to undergraduate students?

My advice would be to try something new even if it might seem a little scary at first. At first, I was hesitant to join the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, but I gave it a chance and ended up falling in love with it. Try new things because whether or not you enjoy it, you’re learning more about what you want to do in the future.