Student Spotlight: Karen Ayoub ’25 Explores Community-Centered Care and Research through Dwight Hall 

Karen Ayoub ’25 is a junior in Ezra Stiles College currently serving as a Dwight Hall Community Mental Health Fellow. Below, she shares her perspective on her service journey, from leading Dwight Hall member groups Yale Student Mental Health Association and Hear Your Song to working at the Yale OCD Research Clinic and Bridgeport REACH Intensive Outpatient Program.

“Compassion and giving back have always been an important part of my life, fostered by my mother very early on. Through service, I learned how to be a leader, gained confidence in myself, and became curious about ways to offer more personalized care, especially in marginalized and underserved communities. 

Seeing people close to me struggle with mental health disorders also made it important to me to research and understand the brain. When I got to Yale, I wanted something that merged my person-centered interests with scientific discourse. After finding the Dwight Hall member groups Yale Student Mental Health Association and Hear Your Song at the extracurricular bazaar my first year and seeing how they focused on both community impact and student wellness, I decided they were clubs that I wanted to join. 

I love to sing, and Hear Your Song–an organization where we write songs with children with chronic illnesses and help them produce something that is true to their original vision–has given me the space to gain new insight into music as a tool for therapy and social engagement. What was a service opportunity also became a time for self-care as it was something away from classes where I could just have fun. 

One of my favorite memories is songwriting with children at a SeriousFun camp (an international network of camp experiences offered to children with serious illnesses), and getting to hear musical instrument requests like: ‘Hey, can you use a microwave to make the beat?’ or ‘I want it to sound like Eurodance music from Eurovision.’ And we did, in fact, find a way to incorporate a microwave, and the kids had fun making different noises into the mic until they got the sound they wanted. They brought me a lot of joy, and getting to see how resilient they were was so inspiring. I truly believe that human-centered care starts by acknowledging a person’s willingness to share their experiences, and as I listened to each individual’s stories, I saw that as a gift.

As the current Co-Director for Yale Student Mental Health Association, I have engaged with members of the New Haven and Yale communities, and every interaction has reinforced my belief in the importance of non-judgmental conversations that raise awareness about mental health and contribute to a more supportive and inclusive culture. I arranged the Mindful Exchanges volunteer program at the Boys & Girls Club of New Haven, which teaches about mental health and well-being to children in the community. These conversations help children and adults implement the practices that work best for them, giving people a strong sense of community and agency. I think that introducing positive practices into communities is extremely important, but we also have to meet people where they are at. There is a lot of empirical evidence to support the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal, meditating, or getting more sleep, for example, but given the experiences of a lot of families in inner-cities, it is difficult to put what we know into practice. By volunteering, I hope that I have been a source of support for these families.

Karen Ayoub ’25 stands with the panelists for the “Career and Educational Paths in Social Work: Insights from YC3 Professionals,” panel she organized at Dwight Hall on April 10, 2024.

I am grateful for the opportunities and resources I have received through Dwight Hall because they have allowed me to alleviate financial burdens while exploring different career paths and developing my interest in community service and research. I became a Dwight Hall Community Mental Health Fellow at the beginning of my junior year, joining a cohort of Fellows led by Director of Service Track and Connecticut Mental Health Center Foundation Director Kyle Pedersen, Director of Research Track Dr. Sarah Fineberg, and Dwight Hall Director of Programming and Evaluation Mark Fopeano.

Through my placement with the Yale OCD Research Clinic and Bridgeport REACH Intensive Outpatient Program, I am being trained on how to conduct exposures for exposure therapy, having more patient-facing interactions, and learning about different roles in the mental health field (e.g., social workers, psychiatric technicians, and psychiatric nurses). I have also conducted phone screens with patients, shadowed clinicians, and contributed to ongoing research projects at the lab.

I am someone who values practice in order to supplement theory, and I truly believe that my approach to research has become more holistic through my work with Dwight Hall. It has helped me realize that when people go home, their lives encompass much more than the prototypical approach to a diagnosis, and that some things just do not fit as neatly into a box as we may want them to. Understanding these nuances has been an important part of my clinical education.

I am currently pursuing a B.S. in Psychology. I want to obtain a doctorate and pursue a career as a clinical psychologist, and my research experience has given me a sense of what that might look like. As a Dwight Hall Community Mental Health Fellow, I have also considered pursuing a career in social work, and it is important to me that I remain receptive to new experiences because I have learned so much in such a short period of time. I have ultimately found that having a community that you can lean on for support is invaluable. After Yale, I want to continue my service work and I feel fortunate that my career goals align with my values. To live a life where my job can bring me joy and feel like something I would choose to do on my own time is all I could ask for.”

Karen’s work as a Community Mental Health Fellow epitomizes the Grow pillar of Dwight Hall’s Engage, Grow, and Advance program delivery model, developing her intellectual, moral, civic, and creative capacities to the fullest with experiential fellowships. 

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