- By Thomas Weaver
THE GREEN /
Walking through Dewey Hall one day, Tracie Ebalu ’13 passed by Karen Fondacaro’s open door and glimpsed a clock on the wall in the shape of Africa. Ebalu, born in the United States of Nigerian parents and raised in both Africa and New York City, stopped short and had a closer look. Fondacaro, clinical professor of psychology and director of the Behavior Therapy and Psychotherapy Center (BTPC), invited her in.
“She started looking around,” Fondacaro recalls, “and she said, ’I feel like I’m home, what do you do?’ And we just had this immediate connection to each other. That was it.”
Fondacaro explained that the clock and other African influences were related to her work directing Connecting Cultures through BTPC, a program providing mental health services to refugees. Ebalu was in from that moment, pouring herself into projects in the New American community through academics and personal service, all the while solidifying a focus for her long-term career goals in clinical psychology.
Named a McNair research fellow in 2012, Ebalu, under Fondacaro’s guidance, has studied the relationship between post-migration stressors such as unemployment, lack of social support, language and education barriers and their impact on mental health outcomes in refugee populations. (The McNair program supports work by first-generation, limited-income and/or underrepresented undergraduates who are academically competitive and have the intention of earning a doctoral degree.)
Despite Ebalu’s intellectual strength, it’s not the only thing that makes people effusive. “Her mind is constantly going but really and truly,” says Candace Taylor, coordinator of programming and leadership development at the university’s Women’s Center, “what I connect most with Tracie is this guiding moral compass, this heart... She is constantly thinking about how she can give back, I think it really is the lens through which she walks this world.”
Part of that giving back has included spearheading a coat drive that collected some five hundred coats and other winter wear for the local refugee community this year. Staff members like Taylor and Beverly Colston, director of the ALANA Center, have joined with Fondacaro in being key guiding influences for Ebalu during her UVM years.
According to Colston, Ebalu has always sought out leadership roles, even ones that may have been a bit beyond her at the time. “But the truth is,” Colston says, “she just soaked up those experiences and used them to get wise and go to the next level.”
In the not-too-distant future, that next level will likely be pursuing graduate degrees.
“I tell my mom I’m really certain I’m going to get a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and one day my name is going to be Dr. Tracie Ebalu.”