Las Vegas, N.M. — New Mexico Highlands University psychology graduate Joanna Tsyitee is headed to the prestigious University of Edinburgh for a graduate program in counseling psychology.
Founded in 1583, the University of Edinburgh is ranked in the top 20 universities in the world. The 23-year-old Las Vegas native will begin her graduate studies in Scotland in September.
Tsyitee completed her B.A. in psychology with a minor in anthropology from Highlands in December 2013, earning magna cum laude.
“The wildest, biggest dream I could think of was to study at the University of Edinburgh,” said the homeschooled Tsyitee. “I’m over the moon that I get to study there. It’s a very impressive school with an excellent counseling program.”
Tsyitee said she was always proud of her father’s Navajo and Zuni heritage, including a great uncle who was one of the legendary World War II Navajo Codetalkers. But it wasn’t until several years ago that Tsyitee and her family learned of her father’s Scottish and Irish heritage from a 90-year-old cousin back east that knew the old family stories.
In an interesting twist, family lore has it that Nathaniel Hawthorne, the 19th century author of the classic novel The Scarlett Letter, was one of Tsyitee’s ancestors.
“My brother John and I love our Celtic heritage,” says the red-haired, fair-skinned Tsyitee, who looks distinctly Scottish.
Tsyitee’s interest in psychology was sparked at an early age.
“I have known I wanted to practice counseling psychology since I was 16,” Tsyitee said. “Psychology is not only a subject that I find extremely interesting, but its potential to help others has made it a sincere and deeply held passion.
“I’ve always been good at science and interested in how things work. For a â€˜soft science,’ psychology is very invested in how things work. All the neurotransmitters firing in our brains come together in a magnificent way to create our conscience,” Tsyitee said.
Visiting psychology professor John Baldy is Tsyitee’s adviser and has taught her courses such as developmental psychology, psychology and religion, and memory and cognition.
“Joanna has an unusual intellectual sophistication beyond her years, and a spirit of adventure,” Baldy said. “She’s very focused and driven out of a thirst to enrich her understanding. Joanna consistently grasps concepts in psychology quickly, and more profoundly than her peers.”
Baldy added that Tsyitee is well read, well spoken, curious and compassionate.
“Good communication and empathy are cornerstones of effective psychotherapy, and Joanna has both capabilities in spades,” Baldy said.
“I’ve had many good professors at Highlands and have taken the most classes with professor Baldy,” Tsyitee said. “He’s very intellectual and knowledgeable, as well as so invested in student learning. He encouraged me to apply to the University of Edinburgh and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself — taking the time to help me with my application and reference.”
Tsyitee said anthropology professor Orit Tamir was another important influence, and the reason she chose to minor in anthropology. Tamir also wrote Tsyitee a letter of recommendation.
Outside the classroom, Tsyitee is the president of the women’s rugby club at Highlands, playing on the club since 2010.
“There’s something about being on the pitch in an adrenaline rush that focuses your mind in a cool way. Plus, I’ve always loved sports,” Tsyitee said.
Looking ahead, Tsyitee has her sights set on a doctorate in psychology.
“The majority of my inspiration is a deep desire to help people who are hurting, emotionally speaking. Specifically, I would like to work with young women in their teenage years, and their families,” Tsyitee said.
She added that sometimes all it takes to help is to listen, but having advanced degrees will provide her with methods and tools to help people heal.