Originally from San Jose, California, Mary Keovisai majored in sociology and Asian American studies at UC Santa Barbara and then obtained a master’s degree in Asian American studies from UCLA. Mary explains, “I was first in the field of Asian American studies and I kind of was looking for something more policy-driven and more macro-oriented with clear, applicable results.”
Mary completed the MSW program in May 2017, and is now focused on her PhD. Mary says, “I am interested in looking at different forms of violence and how [they] interact with each other. Particularly in South East Asian refugee communities and kind of looking at violence as a communicable disease; violence in families, individuals and communities, and how they are interacting with each other and spreading.
Her interest in violence and health becomes even clearer as Mary discusses her role in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Policy Research Scholars Program. Accepted into the program in the fall of 2016, Mary works with fellow doctoral students from various fields and backgrounds with plans to influence future policy creation and implementation. She says, “In July I’ll be in Baltimore… be doing a couple weeks of training there. That should be interesting and I’m excited about that. We’ve had a couple of programs already, and I’ve been doing an online class this past year, so that’s been a weekly online class. We have a fall institute that happened last September, and the winter institute that happened in February, so there’s a lot of traveling for that. Getting to know each other, getting to a better idea of what’s happening with the program and what’s expected of us.”
My interview with Mary was briefly interrupted as someone came up to chat about her dog, Gizmo, who Mary brought along as we sat outside with our coffee. Mary interjects, “I would not be able to do this without the help of my dog, Gizmo. She’s great.” When not working on research projects, you can find Mary listening to 90s R&B and napping with Gizmo.
Mary came to UB with specific interests in mind and the field office was able to accommodate those interests. Mary’s first year field placement was at UB’s Immigrant and Refugee Institute. Mary explains, “That institute actually was one of the first things that drew me to UB. When I came here they were like “we have to put you there, we have to figure out how to get you in there.” I helped kind of build up the institute because it was brand new, so the first year was figuring out what to do with it, what it was and how best to make use of it, which I really enjoyed. I will be going back there for my graduate assistantship this year. My second year internship was at the International Institute of Buffalo, which is a refugee resettlement agency. That was really great too, because I got to see firsthand what the resettlement process looks like for incoming refugees and understand what barriers they face when arriving and understanding what barriers the organizations that are handing the resettlement are coming across, too. It really helped me formulate what the needs are for this particular problem and situation.”
Given the scope of Mary’s interests, she has had the opportunity to work with a number of faculty members. She reflects on her first two years in the program, stating, “All of the faculty at UB have been really great, I think they are one of the major assets of the program. I’ve mostly been working with Dr. Hilary Weaver, Dr. Wooksoo Kim, and Dr. Isok Kim, and Dr. Yunju Nam. So in various ways I have worked with those four on research projects. Hilary, Wooksoo, and Isok have helped me with my fellowship application I applied to, so they are just really great in their support and their willingness to go out of their way to provide me with opportunities and to help mentor me.” Mary continues, “UB has a really good PhD program and I think that the faculty are really special because they do care about the students a lot. Even those that I’m not working directly with, I know that the other faculty that I’ve interacted with support me and I can feel that. It’s just really nice to have a group of people who believe in you.”