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Kirstin Sylvester Ph.D. student in counseling psychology picture in Nancy Randolph Davis

Meet Kirstin Sylvester: Counseling Psychology Ph.D. student

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Media Contact: Katie Lacey | Communications Specialist | 760-878-8967 |

Kirstin Sylvester originally planned to work in medicine, but after taking a child psychology course at her undergraduate institution she realized she was better suited to provide therapy services. Sylvester chose to pursue her doctorate at Oklahoma State University because of the special opportunities the Counseling Psychology program offers. Sylvester shared about some of those opportunities and experiences: 

What factors helped you decide to come to Oklahoma State University?

I chose to attend Oklahoma State University because of my program’s structure, flexibility to student interests and financial opportunities. The Counseling Psychology Ph.D. program at OSU provides an accelerated track, opportunities to form new research groups and paid off campus clinical practicum sites. Attending OSU has exceeded my expectations. I am thankful for my faculty advisor Dr. Sue C. Jacobs who has consistently supported my research endeavors and disseminated professional development and financial opportunities with my goals in mind. 

How did you decide on your major?

My original career goal during my undergraduate studies was to become a child psychiatrist. I attended summer pre-med programs, completed all pre-med courses and took the MCAT. It wasn’t until I took a child psychopathology course my senior year that I realized my passion to provide therapeutic services outweighed medicine and my theoretical orientation did not align with models utilized in the field of psychiatry. After completing my master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, I chose to complete my Ph.D. in the counseling subfield of psychology due to its emphasis on preventative care, strengths and social justice. 

What activities or organizations have you been a part of at OSU? 

I am a part of the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) at OSU and serve as the President for the 2021-2022 academic year. BGSA is dedicated to enhancing the Black graduate student experience at Oklahoma State University. BGSA provides opportunities for persons of the African Diaspora to connect, share experiences, participate in professional development and engage in community service opportunities. A once thriving organization, the impact of graduating leadership and COVID-19 created a lull in the organization’s function. Other executive board members and I are excited to continue the work in transitioning this organization from surviving to thriving. Being a part of BGSA has been instrumental in establishing my sense of community at OSU. 

What internship program are you part of and how does that apply to your future career?

I am currently a counseling intern at OSU’s University Counseling Center in Stillwater. This position is in congruence with my future career aspirations to work as a psychologist in a university counseling center setting and ultimately become the director of a university counseling center. I am passionate about working with the college student population to provide further support in navigating life transitions, the impact of academic and life stressors on mental health, or trauma impacting their daily functioning. Overall, I am interested in helping college students recognize and utilize their innate strengths to enact meaningful change in their lives.

 What advice do you have for people looking to get into this field?

My advice is to “know your why.” Often, prospective students have listed their "why" as a love for helping others, but what is beyond that? My desire to become a psychologist surpasses a passion for helping others. It includes challenging mental health stigmas and increasing mental health access to communities of color, specifically on college campuses. Knowing your "why" will help you identify what you want to contribute to the field of psychology, what programs are the best fit for you, and has, at times, made me feel replenished when I’d normally feel exhausted. 

 What is your leadership style?

I would describe my leadership style as collaborative, encouraging and enthusiastic. I view team members as vital parts of a whole that bring with them their own experiences that attribute to their knowledge and strengths. 

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