Carlson juggles classes, parenting and pursuit of psychology career

Miriam+Carlson+grew+up+in+Kenya.

Mckenzie Ford

Miriam Carlson grew up in Kenya.

By Emily Driskel, Reporter

Being a full-time student in college and pursuing one major is difficult enough. Miriam Carlson, a future EWU grad, will not only graduate with two psychology degrees, but homeschools her two children and commits to volunteering in Spokane every day. 

Carlson is receiving a B.S. in applied developmental psychology, a B.A. in psychology and a minor in communication studies. She said that applied developmental psychology was very hands-on.

“If you are a B.S. in psychology, you are required to do a field study,” Carlson said. “It is awesome because you get to get out there, work in the community and practice what you have learned in class.” 

Carlson has homeschooled her sons Mychal, 11, and Joshua, 9, since they were in preschool. Before she started to homeschool them, she volunteered at the school they were attending three to four times a week. She enjoyed being in their classes, helping the teachers and seeing how the class structure was. Going into school psychology, she wants to be one of the support staff for teachers.

“Setting the [students] up for success is kind of what led me to going to school psychology,” Carlson said. 

Carlson said that her kids are very flexible when it comes to doing their classes. 

“We have done it on a quarter-to-quarter basis because my classes change so much,” said Carlson. “They have been so flexible to be able to accommodate my schedule.”

Carlson grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, and lived about 40 minutes away from downtown. Her dad had a house that was right outside the city. She then moved to California and started college at Hope International University for about a year and half. At the time, she was 18 and unsure of what she wanted to do. 

Carlson needed to get out of an unhealthy relationship, so she moved in with her sister in western Washington, along with her two sons. Eventually, she met her current husband, Chad, who she said has been super supportive and adopted the boys. 

In western Washington, Carlson met one of her close friends, Carl Cary, about 10 years ago. They met through mutual friends and still keep in contact. Cary said that Carlson is one of the most selfless people and will sacrifice herself for the benefit of others. She helps motivate him with her goals.

“Her story is very inspiring and could motivate other women,” said Cary. “She goes forth with beauty and passion.” 

A domestic violence survivor, Carlson said her experiences led her to choose psychology as well.  

“Psychology is one of those things where they have different therapies, and they have different ways of getting through that process and finding themselves,” said Carlson. 

When Carlson and her family moved to Spokane about five years ago, she felt like she was ready to start school again. At that time, Carlson knew that she wanted to pursue psychology.

Dr. Nick Jackson had Carlson in his adult development class, and he became her adviser around the same time in the fall of 2018. 

“That’s when I began to get to know her as a person,” said Jackson. “She was one of those exceptional individuals who is humble but very determined, very bright, extremely polite and cordial.” 

He told Carlson to create a vita, which is a resume for professors. Jackson saw a list of accomplishments going back around 10 years. 

“Every community that she was in, she was volunteering for advocacy for women who were at risk for abuse or were impoverished,” Jackson said. “She initiated an advocacy group in her church where she did this whole training to lift self-esteem and bolster the general positive feelings of women who had been victims of abuse or neglect.” 

Carlson enjoys working with young people and could see herself working in a mentorship position. 

“That may be outside of school psychology, but it might just be partnering with an organization … and bringing my learning and my experiences to helping other people,” said Carlson. 

Outside of homeschooling her sons and studying for college, Carlson volunteered at the Family Promise Emergency Shelter. She worked with guests to help serve their housing needs. She also started a homework club with the children. She intends to go back when quarantine is over. 

“If this order was lifted up today, I would be there next week,” Carlson said. “I was there every day for three hours for 10 weeks.”

Carlson also volunteers with the children at Life Center Church in Spokane. She helps structure their class and plays with them. 

“[The kids] open up to you because play therapy is very much a thing,” said Carlson. “I like seeing when they get picked up by their parents. They are happy, and they have this little cool art project that maybe they worked on, and they cannot wait to tell their parents about it.”

Carlson is a McNair scholar and said that this program has given her clarity when applying to graduate schools. She got to do a research project of her own under the mentorship of Dr. Aryn Ziehnert. 

Ziehnert first met Carlson in her research methods class. She eventually ended up becoming Carlson’s mentor, and they have been working together for a little over a year. She said Carlson puts 110% effort into everything she does. 

“She doesn’t drop anything,” Ziehnert said. “She always has this centrality focus, just wanting to help others and engage with others in a kind, compassionate manner.”

Dr. Kayleen Islam-Zwart, chair of the psychology department, said she originally met Carlson to discuss advising questions about how to progress through her majors. She said Carlson is the ideal student.

“She always goes above and beyond and is amazingly humble, so I don’t think she ever gets full recognition of all of that,” said Islam-Zwart. “She is doing amazing things and is a standout student.” 

Carlson is attending Gonzaga University in the fall for their school psychology program. She hopes to work in a school once she has finished this program. 

“There is a huge need for school psychologists in the United States, and I think it is a really good field that is going to be amazing to be a part of,” said Carlson. 

Ziehnert said she has seen Carlson bloom in her confidence as an individual.

“She is just growing in this confidence of who she is, and she has a voice that is so necessary in our world,” said Ziehnert.