CSUF News Service
Meet Sawssan R. Ahmed
Educator Explores Connections Between Racism, Behavior and Psychological Health
April 1, 2014
Sawssan R. Ahmed
"I was always naturally inquisitive," said Sawssan R. Ahmed, assistant professor of psychology, who joined Cal State Fullerton this spring. "I was always asking why people are the way they are. Then I took psychology in high school."
And she was hooked. "Originally, I didn't think of clinical psychology, but I love the applied aspects, the broader training."
The native Southern Californian — she grew up in Los Angeles and Orange County — attended UCLA, where she earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and Arabic studies. For her advanced degrees, she traveled to Wayne State University and metro Detroit, home of the second largest Arab-American community in the nation.
"It was a perfect place for my work," she explained. "I had always been interested in people of color, especially adolescents."
She delved into the issue of homelessness, interviewing teens and young adults for Wayne State's Housing Adolescents and Life Outcome project, a longitudinal study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (and a division of the National Institutes of Health), aimed at identifying risk factors and social and emotional problems associated with homelessness.
Ahmed completed her master's degree in 2002, completing her thesis using data from the Housing Adolescents and Life Outcomes project. Her master's thesis assessed the role of ethnicity and religiosity as a moderator of substance abuse, mental health, risky sexual behavior and academic performance.
"I looked into how spirituality played a role in the lives of homeless adolescents," she explained. "That led to looking at the influences in the lives of Arab American kids, how spirituality helped in dealing with stress and discrimination following 9/11."
During her doctoral studies at Wayne State, Ahmed was a co-investigator on a NIH-funded study focused on the relationship or connection among racism, behavioral factors and psychological and physical health in Arab-American adults. She also began teaching.
"In the Ph.D. program, you had to teach from the first semester," said Ahmed. "I always knew I wanted to do research, but I loved teaching, especially undergraduates. Teachers played such a huge role in my career trajectory, I wanted to do the same.
"I love Cal State Fullerton," she added. "It's a perfect fit for me. I feel I have an impact on the students, and there is a perfect balance in teaching and research."
Ahmed served postdoctoral research fellowships at UCLA's Center for Cultural Trauma and Mental Health Disparities and San Diego State's Child Adolescent Services Research Center. She has co-authored several papers and made presentations across the country, Canada and in the Middle East. Prior to joining CSUF, she spent two years as an assistant professor of human development at CSU San Marcos.