campus news

UB students earn state mental health scholarships

From left, Esther Turay, Luiza Perez Ortiz, and Celine DeCambre pictured in Silverman library.

From left: UB students Esther Turay, Luiza Perez Ortiz and Celine DeCambre are recipients of state scholarships awarded to underrepresented SUNY and CUNY students entering or enrolled in mental health degree programs. Not pictured: scholarship recipient S. Rashid. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published April 19, 2023


Two UB undergraduates and two master’s students have been named recipients of scholarships to support underrepresented students entering or enrolled in mental health degree programs at SUNY or CUNY campuses.

The four students are among 21 students statewide who will share $2 million to support tuition assistance, paid internships and direct stipends for minority and multilingual students through a partnership with the New York State Office of Mental Health, SUNY and CUNY. The program was made possible by a federal grant awarded to the state Office of Mental Health

The four UB students receiving the scholarships are Celine DeCambre, a senior psychology major; Luiza Perez Ortiz, a first-year master’s student in mental health counseling; S. Rashid, a first-year master’s student in social work; and Esther Turay, a third-year psychology student.

Celine DeCambre has paired her psychology major with minors in counseling and law. Her focus is in clinical psychology, with a particular interest in providing mental health care to underserved populations.

DeCambre was one of two winners of this year’s UB Minority Faculty and Staff Association Student Scholarship.

“As an aspiring clinical psychologist, I am driven by a passion to serve others,” she says. “And this has inspired me to dedicate myself to enhancing diversity efforts in the mental health workforce.”

DeCambre also plans to evaluate the efficacy of mental health services for underserved populations, and develop and implement effective strategies to break down barriers to mental health care.

“My motivation comes from my passion for helping others and making a positive impact in the world,” she says. “I am inspired by the resilience and strength of my mother, and also of the individuals and communities that I aim to serve. My personal experiences growing up in a dysfunctional family have also motivated me to pursue a career in clinical psychology, and provide mental health care to those who may face similar challenges.”

DeCambre says her experience at UB has been “nothing short of phenomenal.”

“The faculty and staff have been incredibly supportive and provided me with numerous opportunities to grow academically and professionally,” she says. “The campus community is diverse, inclusive and welcoming, and has allowed me to connect with other individuals who share my passion for mental health care.”

Luiza Perez Ortiz plans to work toward licensure to become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC). She hopes to specialize in eating disorders, and work with the immigrant and refugee community. Her research interests include mindfulness approaches to treating eating disorders and the intergenerational effects of eating disorders in the Latinx community.

The SUNY mental health scholarship will further provide necessary funding and mentorship to finish her program and pursue a PhD in counseling, Ortiz says.

Counseling programs require 600 hours of unpaid internships in the second year, she notes. “Most students struggle to work as the program becomes more than a full-time job. Pursing higher education in counseling becomes a matter of privilege, since not all individuals have the financial means to complete 600 hours of unpaid work.”

A first-generation student of Latinx immigrant parents, Ortiz has experienced “firsthand the stigma of mental health in my community.”

“I want to advocate for mental health resources for marginalized communities and be a resource for culturally competent mental health care,” she says. “I want to help communities heal generations of trauma that are reinforced by the system of oppression and privilege in this country.”

Her advice for other students: “Don’t be afraid of failure.”

“There is no growth without risk; sometimes you have to put yourself in vulnerable positions to grow academically and professionally,” she says. “I did not think I had a chance at this scholarship, but here I am writing this interview, so I would say, put yourself out there and you might be pleasantly surprised by the outcomes.”

S. Rashid is especially interested in working with children and adolescents, minorities, immigrants and refugees. She intends to eventually enroll in a Doctor of Social Work program after working for a few years.

“I am motivated by the happiness I feel from helping others, which is what led me to social work in the first place,” Rashid says. “It is also inspiring to hear other people's stories and how their experiences and resilience shaped them into who they are.”

Rashid, who received an undergraduate degree from UB, called her overall experience at the university “great.” She praised the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships, as well as the Writing Center, for helping her apply for jobs, scholarships and fellowships.

“My advice for my fellow aspiring scholars would be to always apply for every scholarship/fellowship that you are eligible for and don’t be afraid of rejection,” she says. “After applying for four other fellowships and getting rejected, I was able to receive this one.”

Esther Turay plans to apply to clinical psychology PhD programs after graduation. She wants to research how mental illness impacts youth in marginalized communities. She aspires to become a clinical psychologist who makes mental health care more accessible by providing services to typically underserved populations. 

“I’m so honored to be awarded this scholarship,” she says. “The financial assistance will be a great help to ease my financial burden and will allow me to be more focused on my academics.

My goals motivate me to keep working hard to achieve what I want out of life,” she says. “I have struggled with my own mental health and have experienced firsthand how inaccessible it can be to get care if you’re in a low-income household.

“As of now, the mental health profession is predominantly white, but I want to become the representation that I wish I had. I get my inspiration from all the people I love in my life.”

Turay says she is inspired by the resilience her parents displayed by immigrating to the U.S. from Sierra Leone “so my siblings and I could have a better life.”

“I am also inspired by my friends, as we comfort each other when we’re down and celebrate each other’s wins.”