Summer ’22 grad Arthur Davis discusses journey to earn his master’s degree

This soon-to-be graduate, Arthur Davis, talks about his arduous journey to Lamar University, his experience obtaining his Master of Science in Applied Psychology and what’s next for him after he walks the stage at commencement on Saturday.

Q: Can you tell me about your background?
A: I was born premature, at 24-weeks’ gestation, and weighed 2 pounds, 2 ounces. The doctor explained that I would likely have many mental and physical deficits, but I’m not aware of any problems that can be connected to my premature birth. My home life wasn’t very stable until I was 6 years old. My biological father was a good example of what not to become. He was mentally and physically abusive to his other children, his wives and his girlfriends; I learned how drug addiction can dictate one’s life; and I saw how he rarely took accountability for his actions. He wasn’t a good role model, but there were also times he would help people who needed it the most. His lifestyle exposed me to many different environments that were unsafe and heartbreaking.

Once my mother separated and remarried, my stepfather provided a stable environment. I grew up in a five-person, lower-middle class family. From 2nd grade to 8th grade, I kept my grades up, but made it my mission to make poor choices. I tried stimulants in 2nd grade, cigarettes in 3rd grade and it continually devolved into trying whatever I could get my hands on. Eighth grade was rough. My first serious relationship ended because our irresponsible choices led to an unplanned and terminated pregnancy. I began experiencing suicidal ideation and became more self-destructive. My stepbrothers had moved out, my parents worked quite a bit and I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts, so I spent quite a bit of time with a close friend and his family up until 9th grade.

In 9th grade, I was reunited with a childhood friend that I met in kindergarten. We started dating and this relationship provided an emotional stability that I hadn’t experienced before. We continued dating throughout high school, moved out on our own during 12th grade, got married right after high school and have remained together. I graduated in May 2009, got married June 2009 and joined the Air Force in October 2009.
I joined the military to obtain collegiate benefits. Without the military, I likely wouldn’t have gone to college. I completed language training (Modern Standard Arabic) in 2011. My scores were high enough for any other military branch aside from the Air Force. I was supposed to continue training, but some paperwork was not completed by my supervisor and I was reclassified to a different job duty. This was the first time I had failed at something in an academic perspective. From 2011-2013, I was a procurement specialist. I purchased millions of dollars worth of supplies and services for a military base. In 2013, I signed up to start going to college for psychology while I was in the military, but I was medically retired due to unresolved lower back pain (degenerative disc disease).

I came back to Texas and tried to figure out what I was going to do as a civilian. Being that I didn’t have any education, I worked a couple entry-level positions. Along the way, my wife and I bought a home and had a child. Once our daughter was born, we decided I would stay home, take care of our daughter and go to college. It took me quite a while to be comfortable with this new role of “Mr. Mom.” I knew what a deadbeat father looked like. I didn’t want people to think I was following in his footsteps. Although, my medical retirement and post-9/11 GI Bill benefits provided significantly more money for the family if I went to school compared to working entry-level jobs.

I tried that same online college I had previously signed up for, but I didn’t feel like online courses provided the educational environment I was looking for. There are certain obligations that create a façade of interaction between students and professors, but there wasn’t any actual interaction between individuals. I attended Lamar State College – Port Arthur and completed my associate’s degree. I planned on attending Lamar University immediately after graduation, but Hurricane Harvey (2017) did some significant damage to our home. So, I took a semester off, worked a couple entry-level jobs to minimize debt and helped repair the damage. Once the repair process was in a stable position, I began my bachelor’s degree at Lamar.

Q: What is your major?
A: My degree is a Master of Science in Applied Psychology with a concentration in clinical psychology.

Q: What interested you in psychology? Have you always wanted to study the subject?
A: A bad breakup. When I was 13-years-old, I had a girlfriend who I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. We dated for a year and a half. As a teenager, that felt like forever. The relationship was a whirlwind of insufficient parental supervision, drugs and promiscuity.

When we broke up, I became suicidal. Helping others is how I found a reason to live. To distract myself from my sadness, I talked to others about their stressors as much as I could. I was talking to teens, family members, adults, and strangers on the internet. If you seemed like you were having a hard time or if you told me you were feeling down, I was going to do my best to get you to talk about it. Providing people hope was what helped me. That’s what made me change my life goals from information technology/computer science to psychology.

Q: What attracted you to Lamar University?
A: It’s close and convenient when attempting to stay near to family. I attended four other institutes for higher education prior to Lamar University. I graduated from Port Neches-Groves ISD in 2009; studied Modern Standard Arabic in the Air Force at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California (2009-2011); had some Business Administration training in San Antonio, TX (2011); attended my first psychology classes online at Park University (2015) and received an associate degree in general studies from Lamar State College - Port Arthur (2017). I started my bachelor’s in psychology at Lamar University in 2018. With those past educational experiences, I learned that I preferred to stay close to my support system. I wanted my daughter to be able to build close relationships within the family as well.

Q: What was your first day at LU like?
A: I was a scared, 27-year-old adult who was certain that I bit off more than I could chew. During language training, I worked with some very intelligent individuals, but Lamar University was different. While studying Arabic, all the students felt like a fish out of water. My first day of Lamar University, I felt like I was surrounded by people who were younger, smarter and more prepared than I was. I was certain that this was where my educational career would end because I wouldn’t be competent enough to complete the program. In 2019, I graduated with my bachelor’s and received the Otho Plummer Award. I’m still not sure how I did it.

The first day of my master’s degree was very different. I was still surrounded by some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met, but many individuals from the cohort expressed worry and anxiety. We were unsure about how we would perform and what we were about to face. The graduate cohort was smaller, we all had a strong interest in psychology and many of the concerns I had were normalized just by being part of this group. This group of classmates felt like a tight-knit group who would do our best to help each other succeed. Over the last three years, I feel like that’s exactly what we’ve done — help one another.

Q: What are some of the organizations you’ve been involved in?
A: After my first semester at LU, I joined Psi Chi, the international honor society for psychology. Joining that organization felt like a badge of honor. At that point in my studies, I felt like it offered validation that, at the very least, I was doing well enough to join Psi Chi.

Q: What has been your proudest or favorite moments during your time at LU?
A: One of my proudest moments was working on independent research with Dr. (Jeremy) Shelton and being awarded a grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research for the proposed study. This was my first glimpse at the world of research with human participants. Dr. Shelton is an amazing professor who can break down difficult concepts into easily digestible pieces. He’s one of few professors that I’ve known that not only exhibit a highly specialized knowledge for his field, but he also displays a level of general intelligence that’s inspiring. When Dr. Shelton expressed his desire to work with me on research, I was surprised. Throughout the research process, he treated me like a peer. I felt validated by my previous work and felt like I was truly being accepted by an intellectual for whom I have a great deal of respect. Arthur Davis
Another similar moment was when Dr. (Edythe) Kirk expressed that my research proposal for the undergraduate capstone was good enough to be a thesis project. Dr. Kirk is another highly intelligent, highly conscientious professor. She’s the type of professor who students are afraid to approach. Students think she’ll be able to realize a student’s intellectual inadequacy just by the student opening his mouth. I was no exception. After grading our research proposals, she was explaining the distribution of grades and discussing how one of the proposals was done exceptionally well. Afterward, she leaned in and told me to meet her in her office after class. My first thought was, “Oh no! This is the last thing I have to complete for my bachelor’s. I hope I don’t have to prove I didn’t plagiarize someone’s work.” So, I was surprised that the manuscript she was speaking so highly about was mine. My initial plan was to graduate with my bachelor’s, pay off the debt of rebuilding my house due to the 2017 Hurricane Harvey flood, and then, if I still had time, pursue a graduate degree. From that single conversation with Dr. Kirk, I chose to continue my education instead of putting it on hold. Since Dr. Kirk had faith in my work, it made me think that there was at least a small chance of success if I pursued a graduate degree.

Q: What have been your biggest challenges?
A: COVID-19, the clinic director (who was also the only clinical psychology professor) moving, being part of the first cohort completing the new three-year degree plan, finding an off-site practicum due to the campus clinic being closed, not knowing who was going to teach the final year of the degree plan and the psychology department laboratory being relocated to the library. With all the listed stressors, the psychology department did a great job navigating these problems. It was stressful, but we made it through.

Q: How will it feel to graduate?
A: For the most part, I feel a sense of pride in my accomplishments. With all of the unforeseen stressors, I fell into the mindset of, “I just want to be done.” Now that graduation day is actually here — a ceremony I never expected to make it to — I’m proud to have completed the program.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: There’s still quite a bit to complete. I have to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), pass the Jurisprudence Examination, apply to become a Licensed Psychological Associate (LPA) and complete 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience under a doctorate-level psychologist before I can independently practice as a psychological associate. Studying for the EPPP often takes at least six months to prepare for and it’s common to not pass the EPPP on the first try. That’s the next obstacle I’m focusing my attention on at the moment.

Q: How do you think your degree will expand your professional opportunities and contribute to your future success?
A: Education does not guarantee success, but it provides a higher probability for success. Just like an undergraduate degree opens more doors of opportunity, a graduate degree continues to provide even more opportunity. Obtaining this master’s degree is the best avenue to provide individuals one-on-one mental health services via empirically-based interventions. My hardship during adolescence led to the dream of becoming a psychologist; my time in the military made going to college a realistic opportunity; providing psychological services during practicum solidified that this is how I want to make a difference in peoples’ lives and I still hope to achieve the goal of being able to practice independently. Being that success is not guaranteed, I have no idea what’s in store for my future. If necessary, this level of education will also make changing career paths easier.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I’ve faced many life situations where the need to adapt was paramount. Through many of those situations, it was difficult to maintain a positive perspective of self, others and the future. If you don’t have enough faith in your own abilities, continue to take steps toward your goals. If you are like me and truly believe you are inadequate, don’t let yourself be what stopped you from achieving whatever you want to achieve. Commit yourself to the “next step.” If you don’t succeed, you didn’t lose anything. If you didn’t try, you never gave yourself the opportunity to succeed.

When I started attending college, I never expected to maintain a 4.0 GPA. When I started my undergraduate degree, I didn’t expect to complete it. When I was accepted into the graduate program, I was certain my cohort and professors would discover my shortcomings. Success is not about perfection. Success is about not giving up, not letting fear stunt your efforts and continuing to make a conscious decision to show up to what you committed yourself to. Imposter syndrome is real and sometimes, it really does take faking it until you make it to trust in your abilities.