Psychology student balances summer research with international travel

Ms. Nomamiukor
Photo by: Julia Brown

After graduating from Bowie High School in Arlington, Texas in 2014, Faith Nomamiukor didn’t have to look far for inspiration on what to study in college.

“My major is psychology. My sister is a psychiatrist, and when she used to tell me about her training I thought the therapy aspect was really interesting,” she says. “I later became interested in doing research in the field of trauma psychology after working on behalf of victims of sexual assault.”

Nomamiukor is the cofounder and volunteer coordinator for Modern Abolitionist Coalition, which focuses on combating human trafficking in Houston by encouraging college students to join this fight.

“We volunteer with local antihuman trafficking organizations and host awareness events on campus. We started this club because we are passionate about helping victims of sexual assault,” she says.

This summer, Nomamiukor had the opportunity to hone her research skills in psychology by participating in the University of Houston’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program (SURF). The program provides funding for rising UH sophomores, juniors, and seniors to participate in a focused, full-time, 10-week research experience under the direction of UH faculty.

“My SURF project is about analyzing the words used in the personal narratives of inner city adults being treated for drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms,” says Nomamiukor.

She examined the word content (i.e., drug words, trauma words, emotion words etc.,) of their personal narratives to see how they can inform psychology experts’ understanding of the common comorbidity of post-traumatic stress and substance use disorder. Her sample is primarily African American, they all have at least four symptoms of PTSD, and their most common drug of choice is crack cocaine.

“For this study, each participant was asked to write three true personal narratives about a time where they used drugs, experienced trauma, and had a neutral event. After writing this, the narratives were then read back to the participant and the participant then rated their feelings of distress and drug craving,” says Nomamiukor.

Although Nomamiukor’s main hypotheses was not supported by her research results, she did find multiple significant relations between word content and PTSD and Substance Use Disorder (SUD) symptoms.

“I believe the topic is worth exploring further in larger sample sizes of substance users using the same drug,” adds Nomamiukor.

"Faith is a ‘rising star’ in the field of clinical psychology, and she is well-poised to make meaningful contributions to traumatic stress studies,” says Dr. Anka A. Vujanovic, associate professor of psychology. “She was an ideal SURF mentee given her outstanding academic record, excellent foundation of research experience, intensive leadership activities, stellar efforts and initiative in her senior honors thesis, as well as her generally well-articulated interest in the field of traumatic stress research and practice. Faith manifests a genuine, deep-seated dedication to improve the status quo and to explore ways of using scientific methods to better understand and assist trauma survivors. She stands out among her peers due to her accomplishments, aptitude, maturity, initiative, diligence, and commitment to traumatic stress research. She has been an absolute delight to have on board as a mentee and junior colleague."

Although her research occupied a lot of her time over the summer, Nomamiukor took a break to participate in a study abroad trip to Ghana hosted by African American Studies.

“I wanted to travel to Ghana to learn more about where my ancestors were from,” says Nomamiukor. “My parents are Nigerian, but I had never been to West Africa. Being able to see where my people came from brought tears to my eyes, because I felt like a part of me became more complete. It is not easy to be separated from your culture, and to live life as a minority. I love being American, but I also love my African heritage and I’m really thankful that I was able to learn more about where my people are from.”

Nomamiukor plans to graduate from CLASS this December and she is currently applying to Ph.D. clinical psychology programs for admittance in Fall 2018.

“I plan to do research on sexual trauma to inform intervention efforts targeted at helping human trafficking and sexual trauma survivors,” she says.