Campus News Faculty Spotlight

Associate professor supports students and mental health providers

Sycarah Fisher is an associate professor in the Mary Frances Early College of Education. (Photo by Chamberlain Smith/UGA)

Sycarah Fisher strengthens student mental health services

The beginning of Sycarah Fisher’s research journey stemmed from her family’s experiences.

“When I was in graduate school, I was really interested in the idea of resilience, thinking about the different things that myself and my siblings went through and seeing that here I was going into a doctoral program, and here are my brothers who were struggling with drug abuse and in and out of jail and all these things that made me wonder, ‘what makes some people rise above their circumstances and the things that happen, and what makes other people succumb to it?’” she said.

An associate professor in the University of Georgia’s school psychology program housed in the Mary Frances Early College of Education, Fisher originally went to college with the intention of becoming a teacher. However, courses in psychological assessment and neuropsychology paved the way for her to attend graduate school. She earned the top scores in both neuropsychology courses, and her professor encouraged her to pursue a Ph.D.

“The combination of that class that kind of taught me about this field that was a mixture of psychology and education, and then this other professor saying, ‘you will be great if you went to a doctoral program,’ really laid the foundation for me to consider it and to apply for programs,” Fisher said.

Fisher joined the College of Education in 2019 coming from the University of Kentucky. Prior to academia, she worked as a school psychologist with high-need students in New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and in Washington, D.C., with preschool through eighth grade students.

Fisher’s research initially centered on the concept of resilience, with a focus on racial and ethnic identity as a protective factor against substance use for Black youth. Recently, she transitioned to researching how to provide community-based implementation of proven interventions in low-income, high-need, minority-serving schools.

“I did a lot of work around the substance use and mental health outcomes and models of risks, and now I want to do something about it,” she said. “I want to work with community, school-based mental health providers to try to help address the substance use and mental health issues that they see.”

In January 2023, she and associate professor Ashley Johnson Harrison received a $1.89 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grant Program to increase the number of mental health service practitioners in the Clarke County School District.

“Often, Black and brown kids in these settings do not get access to evidence-based care, and they often are sent to more disciplinary routes, and so that’s where we see the school-to-prison pipeline begin,” Fisher said. “So, my goal is to use my research to provide and help support schools, provide strong evidence-based approaches for implementation for these interventions and hopefully reduce the school-to-prison pipeline in some way by providing these appropriate responses instead of a disciplinary response.”