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Helping others after devastation

Kristen B. Morales

April 27, 2015

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Growing up with family ties to Haiti, Elizabeth Louis has learned a lot about the nation's resiliency and perseverance.

But the stories and experiences of struggle over adversity on the Caribbean island are more than childhood lessons. Today, she is pursuing her Ph.D. in counseling psychology with a focus on disaster psychology. Her intention is to work in Haiti in the field of disaster mental health, or with other mental health professionals in the country. Originally from Miami, Louis received her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her master's from Boston College.

Today, working with associate professor Alan Stewart in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services in the University of Georgia College of Education, Louis is learning about the way people react to the weather — for example, hurricanes or tornadoes — which will give her more insight into helping people after a disaster.

As a first-year doctoral student, Louis is helping Stewart with his research while she teaches undergraduate classes and selects her dissertation topic. Louis' current project investigates how the perceptions of survivors are influenced by race and gender. Stewart researches the psychological effects of weather and climate for diverse groups.

"I'm Haitian-American, and our island has been plagued with disasters of some sort," Louis said. "It's inspirational to learn how people cope with natural disasters."

Louis was also honored recently with the Mary Frances Early Scholarship, an award given to a graduate student by the Graduate and Professional Scholars organization (GAPS) in the UGA Graduate School. The award was presented following the annual Mary Frances Early Lecture, given this year by Michael Thurmond, the superintendent of the DeKalb County School district. Early is the first African-American graduate of the University of Georgia; she holds a degree in music education.

Louis said she became aware of the scholarship as co-chair of the Community Service and Outreach committee for GAPS and decided to apply. Winning, she said, is a huge honor.

The Mary Frances Early Scholarship is one more way Louis can further her research in the field, and takes her one step closer to fulfilling her dream of working in Haiti.

"I think resiliency is within our culture," she said of Haiti. "Being the first Black nation in the Western hemisphere to gain independence, we've always had that spirit of resiliency to overcome the mountains of life."