2024 Outstanding PSY Senior: Alisar Alabdullah

April 24, 2024 - Shelly DeJong

Alisar Alabdullah stands near a MSU flag.Alisar Alabdullah, a psychology major with a minor in human behavior and social services, has been named the 2024 Outstanding Psychology Senior. Alabdullah, a first-generation Syrian immigrant, has maintained a 4.0 GPA while also being a member of the Honors College.  

“It’s such an honor to be named the Outstanding Senior, especially knowing that there are so many high achieving, deserving students in the department,” said Alabdullah. “It’s really validating of my hard work over the years. I’ve tried to be involved as much as I can as an undergrad and it's nice to be recognized for it.” 

Alabdullah grew up in Syria and lived there until the war broke out. She and her family escaped safely to the U.S. in 2016, where she then had to overcome language barriers and cultural differences. Despite these challenges, she was determined to excel academically.  

“I was still processing escaping war, the immigration process, and the culture shock. But you know, I thought if others did it, I can do it, too,” said Alabdullah. “I knew that I had to focus on my academic goals if I was going to make a better future. Because my parents don't have college degrees and they don't speak English, I knew I was the only hope for our future.” 

Alabdullah has been working as a research assistant in Dr. Richard Lucas’s Personality and Well-Being Lab since her second year at Michigan State. She worked with Dr. Bill Chopik and Dr. Rebekka Weidmann and a team of Honors students on a research paper that was published in the Journal of Research in Personality, making her a published author—a high achievement as an undergraduate student. Another manuscript she worked on with the Personality and Well-Being Lab is under review for publication in Social Psychological and Personality Science

“I’m so happy for Alisar for winning the 2024 Outstanding PSY student award! She has played a central role in our research lab for years now, and it’s been so great to have the opportunity to work with her on a number of research projects,” said Dr. Lucas. “Everyone in the lab will miss Alisar, but we’re all excited to see what she does next. This is such a well-deserved award; Congratulations, Alisar! 

Alabdullah is committed to researching the mental health and well-being of refugees and immigrants and hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with a focus on refugee and immigrant populations who have been affected by forced displacement, war, and conflict situations. Knowing of her interests, her professors connected her on a research project with Dr. Joanne Chung from the University of Toronto. Dr. Chung was co-director of the Karakter Project, a longitudinal study focused on Syrian origin young adults who have recently resettled in the Netherlands. 

“I’m very grateful for all the support I’ve been getting from faculty who are willing to support students in the field to pursue their interests further,” said Alabdullah. “I’ve been so surprised that after talking with professors or going to conferences, you realize how willing they are to support you even if your interests don’t line up completely with theirs.” 

With her sights on a Ph.D. program, Alabdullah knew that she wanted to gain research and clinical experience. She pursued two internships as a student, one with the University of Michigan’s Clinical Psychology community where she worked to summarize literature in clinical psychology. As a senior, she also began an internship with Michigan State’s Couple and Family Therapy Clinic. As an intern, she attended practicums with graduate students and watched therapy sessions with the attending supervisor.  

A quote attributed to Alisar: "I remember sitting in class and learning about all these things that I always wondered about. Turns out that others did too, and they did something about it. I'm excited to take what I've learned at MSU and keep growing and learning.“It was confirmation for me about the career that I want to pursue. I love doing research, learning literature, and brainstorming research ideas, but I’m also interested in how we apply this knowledge to a clinical aspect. I love the interplay between research and clinical sessions,” said Alabdullah. 

After graduation, Alabdullah will be joining Columbia University’s Master’s in Clinical Psychology program to gain experience so she can be a more competitive candidate for a Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program. 

Alabdullah’s time at Michigan State is full of fond memories — from being a part of a research lab, studying abroad at the University of Sydney in Australia, to finding a sense of community here.  

“I remember sitting in class and learning about all these things that I always wondered about. Turns out that others did too, and they did something about it,” said Alabdullah. “I’m excited to take what I’ve learned at MSU and keep growing and learning.”