Ludivina Vasquez, 20, finished strong at California State University, Dominguez Hills, graduating on May 18 with a Bachelor of Art in psychology from the College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences.
Vasquez started out as an average student, but reached her stride toward the end of her sophomore year. That’s when she discovered research– or when chair and professor of psychology Mark Carrier discovered her. Because she was actively participating and excelling in his critical thinking course (PSY 110), Carrier asked her to participate in the George Marsh Applied Cognition Laboratory, which he directs along with fellow psychology professor Larry Rosen and conduct her own independent research project exploring risky on- and off-line behaviors in adolescent populations. She examined literature on the topic, created the questionnaire used, collected data, and analyzed it.
“Because I was able to do research in the lab, I felt more involved…with the psychology department and my professors. I got to know more students that love research, too. It motivated me to do better in school,” Vasquez said, adding that her grade point average quickly shot up to 3.5.
Vasquez became a Minority Biomedical Research Support-Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (MBRS RISE) scholar for her two final years at CSU Dominguez Hills, was a teaching assistant for several psychology courses, and served as a research assistant in the university’s psychology department while also assisting in research at Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
“The more I did research, the more I learned about statistics, and I grew to love it. …When I was thinking about going to graduate school I wanted to go a university that did a lot of research that focused on trauma, resilience and appraisal,” said Vasquez, who has been accepted to the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, where she will be able to accomplish that.
She presented research at several conferences throughout the nation, including the Western Psychological Association’s Convention in 2012, at the American Psychological Association’s Annual Convention in 2011, and on campus at the 2011 and 2012 Student Research Day, where she won a first place award in the behavioral and social sciences category for “I Can’t Help Falling in Love… With Me: The Effect of Narcissism Upon Facebook-induced Anxiety” (conducted with faculty mentor Rosen).
She said such opportunities have helped push her research forward and prepare her for graduate school.
“When I present, people ask questions. If I don’t know the answer, I can do more research on my topic. Maybe look at it differently,” Vasquez said.
She became a senior lab member and served as a mentor to four students who nominated her for the 2012 Presidential Outstanding Student Award. Vasquez was selected for that honor along with two other students and also was one of two students who received the 2012 Presidential Award for Personal Perseverance.
“I nominated Ludy for the perseverance award because, while all of the events in her past pushed her into a direction away from academia, she managed to find reward, comfort, and pleasure in schoolwork. Focusing on these kept her on track to where she is now. And not only is she aiming for the highest level of achievement in academia—a Ph.D., she is planning on a career that will directly benefit others who were in the same situation that she was in,” said Carrier. “With a Ph.D. in child-clinical psychology, she will be able to conduct research about and to administer therapy to kids who are struggling to make something good out of their bad family and community settings.”
Although she only recently discovered her love for research, her interest in psychology began much earlier as a result of her mother’s fight against cancer. Her mother survived the cancer, but fell into depression and sought therapy. Vasquez saw how the psychiatric care her mother received was helpful. She also took notice of how other people and her schoolmates responded to adverse circumstances.
“I found it interesting that some people were able to push forward and try to be the best they could be. And other people just sunk into a hole,” she said.
Vasquez, who now lives in Gardena, said her own troubles started at 6 years old when she moved to Mexico with her family. There, teachers treated her unkindly because she was American. But when she and her family returned to the U.S. a year later, things weren’t looking much better. Teachers were indifferent and shunned her. Rampant with gangs and tagging crews and teachers who made assumptions and considered all the students as losers, high school was worse. Vasquez recalled one teacher saying, “None of you are going to go to college.”
But these lowered expectations didn’t stop Vasquez from excelling. She finished high school in three years by taking night classes at El Camino College and Los Angeles Harbor College before going on to CSU Dominguez Hills, following in the footsteps of her brother Gerado Vasquez (Class of ’10, B.A. biology) and her sister Leslie Vasquez (Class of ’12, B.A. psychology). Vasquez learned valuable insights along the way.
Her ultimate goal is to be a professor, mentoring students as well as conducting research to help patients. She wants to help anyone who is in need, especially low-income patients. When asked if she’ll help people who think psychology is just for the crazy, Vasquez laughed and said, “I’ll help them, too.”