Yunxin (Joyce) Gu
Cognitive Science & Economics
Can you describe the degree you are pursuing now?
I am currently pursuing a Master of Education in Counseling Psychology at Columbia University. The program is very practical—it aims to train students to become therapists after only two years. During the first year, we took many courses and small seminar labs in which we roleplayed clients and therapists to practice our skills. In the second year, while we change courses, we also do field work to accumulate clinical hours.
How did your journey at Minerva inform your passion for pursuing a career in the mental health space?
In my second year at Minerva, I started focusing on applying behavioral science into practice to improve the well-being of communities and individuals. That brought me to mental health studies. With a couple Minerva upperclassmen, we organized a mental health working group and set up peer support groups. Academically, I reached out to professors to talk about this topic and tackled it in my Capstone project as well.
In my current work, I am going exactly in that same direction, now that I am training to become a therapist. Before, I was thinking about a higher-level change—what institutions can do, and what our society can do to support the mental health and well-being of people. Right now, I am refining my skills to make sure I have the abilities and expertise so I can help people on an individual level. Maybe, in the future, I will think about higher-level impact again.
What part of your Minerva experience most significantly informed your current perspective on the world and the way you approach studying now?
The diverse cultural lenses Minerva gave me significantly inform my current perspective on the world and on my work. We have lived and studied in so many countries and, for me, I witnessed the power of behavioral science in each of the cities I lived in. I observed how it can be applied to improve a local community's well-being. Everywhere I went, I saw people struggling with mental health issues, but I also saw their resilience to overcome life's difficulties. This is precisely what is driving me into this field.
In my graduate program now, every time we talk about a certain topic or discuss a case study, I have found myself constantly asking "Is this being seen through a multicultural lens?". As I explore the field of counseling psychology, I feel compelled to shine a light on its limitations and elevate overlooked voices. I found it is not a natural occurrence for many people to think this way, but it is almost like it is programmed into my thinking because of my Minerva experience. With every discussion, I am reminded of the importance of promoting diverse perspectives and challenging ourselves to think beyond the status quo.
Which Minerva semester or summer stands out for you in terms of your professional development?
I spent two summers working with a former Minerva professor, Professor Leanne Chukoskie. She offered me the opportunity to intern in her lab, which focused on working with neurodivergent teenagers and widening their work opportunities. We set up an internship program for them where they could develop their own projects and work with actual clients. The aim of the program was for them to develop code or small games for clients within eight weeks. Professor Chukoskie offered me a lot of flexibility during that program and allowed me to be curious and explore in my work. During my second summer at Minerva, I established a mentorship program from scratch and paired the teenagers with coaches and mentors from different areas of expertise. A lot of experts were from another research program focused on senior loneliness and we thought that they could be compatible. During the second summer, I built a professional development library. I wrote articles and sent them out weekly to our interns to teach them how to take care of themselves while maintaining high work efficiency. Both experiences are related to what I am doing now because they involved coaching, career development, and empowering young adults from marginalized backgrounds.
What are some learnings from your Minerva classes that you find yourself applying to your life or studies now?
Minerva’s seminar approach to courses influenced me a lot. It was those Socratic Dialogues, especially in my philosophy class, that helped me construct my own perspective and articulate my ideas out loud with confidence and logic. The other thing would be Minerva’s educational approach. I remember in my third year, I felt my courses in economics and cognitive science complemented each other beautifully and I could even combine my courses to find connections between my philosophy class and my psychology class. It was exciting to see how what you are learning is all connected and that you can utilize that knowledge in different fields.
Can you talk me through your Capstone project? In what ways do you think your Capstone work informs what you are doing now?
My Capstone project was about utilizing motivational theories to design a series of infographics to persuade the Minerva student body to practice more self-care. I took a preventative lens instead of an interventional approach. In the infographic series, I gave a brief and easily understandable introduction to selected mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, and deconstructed them on the spectrum. At the base level, we are talking about a simple emotion, but at very high intensities of more emotions, they can become dysfunctional. I went into the physiological emotional level and cognitive level impact of those disorders and offered strategies on how one can cope with emotions on one’s own, but also reach out when necessary. Nowadays, I am learning how to treat those disorders through talk therapy. So my Capstone project is definitely connected to what I am doing now.
If you were inspired by Joyce' story and are seeking a college experience that will teach you valuable pragmatic skills that will enable you to change the world, apply to join Minerva today.