2024 Valedictorian - Alivya Barry

BA/MA program in Research Psychology with a minor in anthropology

Alivya Barry
Alivya Barry, BA/MA program in Research Psychology with a minor in anthropology.

Please share a little about your background — what’s your story? 

I grew up in a mission-oriented family. When I was 7, we started fostering kids out of the fostercare system, which exposed me to many levels of trauma, I saw the impacts of poverty, cognitive disabilities, and physical/emotional/sexual abuse. My parents dedicated most of my childhood years to their non-profit which aimed to create safe homes and spaces, as well as fill other gaps within the foster care system. Also, during the border crisis of 2012, we partnered with the government to open our home to unaccompanied minors who crossed the border from Central America in hopes to be reunified with their parents here in the states. Over the course of the 10 years we were involved with the foster care system, my family saw over 70 kids and teens in our home.

Throughout my childhood I also studied ballet and modern dance techniques, which I excelled in and ultimately led to my acceptance to the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, an arts boarding school. So I moved out at 15 to attend this school. It was also dance that brought me to NYC — when I was 17, I was accepted to The Ailey School on a full merit scholarship, so I then moved here all by myself and have been here ever since.

While dance was always my heart's passion, I knew that I wanted to do something more with my life and recognized all the trauma I had been exposed to through the foster care system. I began to wonder why some children fared better than others. Despite witnessing significant trauma, I managed to achieve a level of success that perplexed me. This stark contrast led to a sense of survivor’s guilt, which ultimately propelled me into my current academic journey. While I lacked clarity on the details of my pursuit, I was determined in helping others and addressing the impact of childhood trauma.

With very little knowledge yet strong resolution, in 2020 I enrolled at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) to pursue an associate degree in psychology. After my first year in this program, I was invited by the chair of BMCC’s psychology department to apply to the Bridges to Bachelorette grant, a T-34 NIH training grant at CCNY. This program, which selected five students from BMCC within the STEM field, provides rigorous research training and experience to underrepresented students. To my surprise, I was awarded this grant, launching me into a career I could never have fathomed a year prior. Participating in this opportunity expanded my understanding of the field of psychology and potential ways that I could impact my community through research. Experimental psychology was never a field I had considered; however, over the past three years I have become engrossed in its creative process, and it has become clear to me that I want to pursue a career in research.

What is your passion or purpose behind your studies at CCNY?

Definitely the kids we fostered. I think about them often and wonder how my current research could have helped them growing up.

Where are you at in your career? How has it unfolded? And how has the Colin Powell School helped you along the way?

Still at the VERY VERY beginning. I think it has unfolded in the most perfectly unexpected way — I never thought I would be where I am today, but I couldn’t be more happy. CPS has helped me get here in so many different ways, but truly through the financial support and internships that I've received through the school. I would not be here if it was not for the support and opportunities awarded by the faculty and staff of the school.

What are your plans post graduation?

Most immediately, I plan to work as either a clinical case manager or clinical research assistant, as well as begin to work in a teaching capacity at CCNY. Over the next year I will begin to apply for PhD programs in developmental research and clinical practice (formally called Clinical Developmental Psychology).

What is your biggest accomplishment from your time at CCNY?

I would say the NIH grant is potentially my biggest accomplishment — also maybe being valedictorian. I am truthfully not sure, because I feel incredibly proud of all I have achieved, but it's more so about the person I have become throughout my time here. Incredibly grateful to be fostered in such a space.

Do you have any advice you could give to current or future students?

Honestly, just go where the wind takes you. Obviously have a structure to your goals, but be open for those goals to change based on the opportunities presented to you. If you're too rigid, you’re going to break, but if you're too fluid you take whatever form people put on you instead of truly knowing yourself and your passions.

How would you describe CPS in three words?
Empowering, challenging, satisfying.

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