Leadership, teambuilding and residence life

“I really do think that any people skills I have, I owe to this job. I feel like it also gave me confidence that I did not have before.”

When Danyah Tarabulsi ’24 was in the tenth grade, she suddenly felt panic. College was creeping up. What was she going to major in?

Tarabulsi, who is a native of Saudi Arabia, took a bunch of online quizzes to see if they could help her find some direction. She didn’t take them too seriously, but she was curious what they would point to. That’s when she came across a word she had then never heard of: psychology.

“I was like, okay, what does that mean?” Tarabulsi said. “And so I researched it and was like, wow, this seems like the career path for me. I'm a people person. I'm an extrovert. I like meeting new people.”

In the back of Tarabulsi’s mind, she started to think about going into counseling. She already knew she wanted to study abroad. Her parents had also studied abroad; in fact, her mother was an alum of Mount Holyoke. She’s still best friends with her first-year roommate and spoke glowingly to Tarabulsi about the experiences and opportunities available at Mount Holyoke.

Ultimately, Tarabulsi said, it wasn’t just her mother’s encouragement but also Mount Holyoke’s psychology program that ultimately brought her to the College. “Psychology is not really that big at home, so I knew this would be the way I could get to go [study it],” she said.

Now, Tarabulsi will head to Northwestern — her top choice school — this fall to pursue a master’s degree in counseling psychology after she graduates from Mount Holyoke this spring. She eventually hopes to do a PhD in the field and return to Saudi Arabia to practice as a psychologist. She credits her time at Mount Holyoke with helping her to realize her interests and skill sets.

“I'd like to say I'm pretty involved on campus,” Tarabulsi said.

After spending her first year at Mount Holyoke — the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic — taking 3 am classes on Zoom while still residing in Saudi Arabia, Tarabulsi applied to be a representative on her class board her second year to take part in hosting Mount Holyoke’s various campus traditions. After she and a friend attracted some positive attention from administrators for how they could mediate a tough situation maturely, they were invited to become resident advisors [RAs].

“So I've been an RA since my sophomore spring,” Tarabulsi said. “And then this year, I became an RF [residential fellow], which is like the RA of RAs in the building.”

Working in residential life will likely be the Mount Holyoke experience that will stay with Tarabulsi the most, she said. Dealing with multiple mental health crises as an RA gave her insight into psychology that exceeded what she could learn from her classes alone. As an RF now, she’s also been able to level up her leadership and teambuilding skills.

“I really do think that any people's skills I have, I owe to this job,” she said. “I feel like it also gave me confidence that I did not have before,” she said, citing specifically her training on how to bring up hard conversations and confront people in a direct but respectful manner. “I was not the most confrontational person going into this job,” she added.

It was taking a course on abnormal psychology with Alyssa Norris, a practicing psychologist, during the fall of Tarabulsi’s third year that also sparked a plan for her future work. By then, Tarabulsi knew she wanted to pursue a PhD. But she had no idea how to chart out a plan for it. She enjoyed Norris’s engaging teaching style that emphasized group work — it seized what Tarabulsi describes as her short attention span — and started going to Norris’s office hours. There, she sought advice on how to pursue her future.

Initially, Norris suggested she work for a few years and then go back to school. But the following summer, Tarabulsi said, she interned at a psychiatric clinic back in Saudi Arabia where she shadowed psychologists and psychiatrists, including sitting in on sessions with their clients. It was a wake-up call for her. She realized she didn’t want to wait for her future.

So Norris, alongside Tarabulsi’s boss at Residential Life, Kelly Bernatzsky, wrote Tarabulsi’s letters of recommendation for graduate school. Now, Tarabulsi eagerly awaits her time at Northwestern as she cherishes the rest of her time at Mount Holyoke. As vice president of her class board, she’s also looking forward to planning senior traditions such as the senior ball.

“Most of my friends, my best friends now, are on that board,” Tarabulsi said. “It's been an endearing experience.”

Contact us

The Office of Marketing and Communications spreads the word about Mount Holyoke College’s distinctive strengths and newsworthy accomplishments.

Christian Feuerstein
  • Director of Public Affairs and Media Relations