Originally from San Jose, California, Mary Keovisai majored in sociology and Asian American studies at UC Santa Barbara, followed by a master’s degree in Asian American studies at UCLA. “I was in Asian American studies but I kind of was looking for something more policy-driven and more macro-oriented with clear, applicable results,” said Kevisai of her turn to social work.
Keovisai completed the MSW program in May 2017 and is now focused on her PhD. “I’m interested in how different forms of violence interact with each other,” she said of her research focus. “Particularly in South East Asian refugee communities—looking at violence almost as a communicable disease; violence in families, individuals and communities, and how it interacts and spreads.”
Keovisai was accepted into the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Policy Research Scholars Program in fall 2016. Through the program, Keovisai works with fellow doctoral students from various fields and backgrounds with plans to influence future policy creation and implementation. As the scholars get to know each other, they are also getting an idea of what’s expected through the program; they travel to participate in institutes and training, as well as attend an online class.
Keovisai came to UB with specific interests, and the SSW field office was able to accommodate those interests: her first year field placement was at UB’s Immigrant and Refugee Research Institute (IRRI). “IRRI actually was one of the first things that drew me to UB,” she said. “When I first got here, the field office and faculty agreed that I needed to be there. I really enjoyed helping build up the institute; it was brand new, so the first year was figuring out what to do; what it was and how best to make use of it. I’ll be going back for my graduate assistantship.”
Keovisai’s second-year internship was at the International Institute of Buffalo, a refugee resettlement agency. “It was great to see firsthand what the resettlement process looks like for incoming refugees,” she said. “To understand what barriers they face when arriving—and also to understand what barriers the organizations that are handling the resettlement are coming across. Seeing both sides helped me formulate what the needs are for this problem and situation.”
Keovisai has had the opportunity to work with a number of faculty members. “The UB faculty members are one of the major assets of the program. I’ve mostly been working with Dr. Hilary Weaver, Dr. Wooksoo Kim, Dr. Isok Kim, and Dr. Yunju Nam, all in various ways, on research projects,” she said. “Hilary, Wooksoo, and Isok helped me with my fellowship application; they are great in their support and their willingness to go out of their way, providing me with opportunities and helping to mentor me.”
“UB’s PhD program is very good; the faculty are special because they care about the students a lot,” summed up Keovisai. “I know that the other faculty with whom I’ve interacted—even those that I’m not working with directly—support me. It’s really nice to have a group of people who believe in you.”
When not working on research projects, you can find Keovisai listening to ‘90s R&B and napping with her dog, Gizmo.