First-Year Journey: Q&A with Austin Wyman '23, Psychology Major and Ballet Folklorico Dancer

Author: Shannon Rooney


Meet Austin Wyman '23, a first-year student who is passionate about psychology for a very personal reason.  

In 2005, just before Hurricane Katrina hit his hometown of New Orleans, Wyman's Uncle Jeremy, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, had trouble getting in to see a mental health specialist when he needed to.

The limited number of mental health professionals in the area were booked, as often happens in much of the country. During this particular episode, when Jeremy went untreated, he and another family member were involved in an altercation and both died as a result.

An article written by a local newspaper painted Jeremy as a killer whose illness led him to murder. Wyman believes this was unfair to both his uncle and anyone suffering from mental illness. "That day I saw a proud man reduced to the sum of his chemical imbalances. While those who cluelessly read the article believed the notions that he was violent and unstable, those at his funeral truly understood that he was a kind man that was simply refused help," says Wyman.

The injustice around the lack of mental healthcare that might've saved the lives of two people he loved led Wyman to his major in psychology. He believes the stigma around mental health issues is partially to blame for the lack of care for people who need it most. 

"I want to be the psychologist Jeremy never had and fight the mental health stigma so that other families don’t have to experience what we did," says Wyman.

Now a first-year student at Notre Dame, Wyman is pursuing psychology and a second major in economics, along with minors in compassionate care in medicine and theology.

In addition to academics, he's made good friends and found extracurriculars that he loves. Life at Notre Dame is far from all work and no play, no matter how seriously he takes his studies.

Here, Wyman answers our questions about psychology, the prestigious Balfour-Hesburgh Scholars Program, and—just for fun—where he sides in the great debate of cats vs. dogs.

Why did you choose Notre Dame? 

I went to a Holy Cross congregation school from fifth to 12th grade. We were founded seven years after Notre Dame and because of that we borrowed a LOT of their traditions. Our colors were blue and gold, we had our “Huddle,” my senior ring looks almost identical to the Notre Dame ring—not to mention we practically plagiarized the Alma Mater and Fight Song. Indirectly, Notre Dame was a big part of my life for eight years. If I experienced a fragment of that culture and loved it, I wanted to experience the real deal after I graduated.


How did you choose your majors and minors? 

I am interested in being a clinical psychologist, so majoring in psychology was a given. Compassionate care goes with my intended career. The minor focuses a lot on patient-to-professional communication and that’s important for effective therapy.

I discovered economics by accident when I took my microeconomics class this semester. At first, I was just taking the class as a requirement for Mendoza, but I ended up liking econ more than any field in business. I am hoping to apply the economics of health and immigration to my career and possibly research.

Some people see religion and therapy at odds with one another. I wanted a minor in theology to look at both sides of the issue, so that I could treat them as complements and not adversaries.

Austin Wyman - library

What is your favorite class so far? 

Arabic is my favorite class so far. I’ve always wanted to take a language, but I’ve never had a real chance to. In high school, we only had the option to take Latin, and yes, while that is a language, it didn’t have the same feel as a language that you would use in daily conversation.

I can see my improvement every class, in the way that I write, speak, and comprehend the language. I’m looking forward to when I can one day converse fluently with my patients in Arabic.

Do you plan to do any research or creative projects? 

I’m planning on doing some research in psychology as a preparation for graduation school. In high school, I did my thesis on the effectiveness of combined cognitive-behavioral therapy and logotherapy at treating patients with anhedonia.

Most likely, I would do my research on a subject similar to this, where I would evaluate how certain models of treatment work with specific populations. I am interested in finding newer, more effective ways of treating mental illnesses.

You’re part of the Balfour-Hesburgh Scholars Program. Can you tell us how that adds to your Notre Dame experience? 

I didn’t have the ability to visit the campus before I committed to Notre Dame. I took a gamble and said “whatever happens, I’ll deal with it when I get there.” The first time I saw campus was when I arrived during the summer for Balfour.

I saw the Golden Dome and the Basilica for the first time then and I was blown away. I thought to myself “How did I ever get accepted into a place this great?” I am really grateful for Balfour because it gave me the ability to be on campus during the summer and adapt to the reality of college life early. I could learn my way around campus and academics at a more relaxed pace, so that I was more prepared once the real deal set in the following August. I don’t know if I would be the same student I am today if it wasn’t for that preparation.

What is your favorite thing about the Balfour program? 

I love being able to claim that I am a part of the oldest scholars’ program at Notre Dame. As a low-income African American and Latino student, I don’t exactly represent the typical Notre Dame student; it’s easy to feel left out. However, being a part of such a large and empowering community makes me feel like I’m not just lucky to be here; I deserve to be here.

Classes are online for your second semester—how’s that going for you and your professors? 

For the most part, my classes are business as usual. There are a couple of lectures that have just moved to recording. That’s a big relief because I know I’d be struggling to focus in 7:20 morning classes. Other lectures are still live over Zoom, which is a bit awkward at the moment, but everyone’s starting to figure things out. I do miss the experience of being in front of a classroom though.

What extracurricular activities are you involved in?

Wyman with dance partner in Ballet Folklorico Azul y Oro, a student-run Latin dance company

I am part of the Outdoors Club, Active Minds, and Ballet Folklorico. I joined the Outdoors Club because I wanted to see what the Midwest looked like outside of Notre Dame. Our first trip was to the Lake Michigan dunes and that was an incredible experience. Coming from flat Louisiana, I had never seen a mountain of sand before.

I joined Active Minds because I am really passionate about mental illness and I wanted to become a mental health advocate during my college experience.

I joined Ballet Folklorico because a lot of my friends participated in the club. I had gone to so many performances to support them that eventually I became friends with everyone else in the club. They kept telling me I should join and eventually I gave in. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to have my first performance because of campus closing, but I plan on still participating when campus reopens.

What’s your favorite Notre Dame memory so far? 

My favorite memory at Notre Dame is my first football game. It was the Bowling Green game where Notre Dame won 52-0. I mainly went because of the band Chicago that was playing during halftime. I didn’t really care about football. I was just interested in hearing one of my favorite bands of all time play.

Little did I know that I would get so wrapped into the football culture that game. Not to mention the first game I ever watched was a complete blowout. Who can help being a Fighting Irish fan after that?! Probably my favorite moment from that game was doing my first touchdown push-up with my friends.

What’s your favorite place to eat on campus? 

That’s easy. Subway. It’s the only restaurant that’s open no matter how late I’m studying and it’s the only restaurant that can substitute the dining hall without completely killing my flex points.

If you had one piece of advice for prospective students thinking about applying to Notre Dame, what would it be?

Don’t let the thought of not being good enough hold you back from applying. I was really tempted to give up on a lot of universities because I thought I could never be the type of student they wanted.

I took a chance with Notre Dame anyway. Colleges don’t just look for numbers—it's more holistic than that. A range of numbers doesn’t define who anyone is. They look for smart risk takers and I proved that I will never stop taking risks in life.

What is something most people wouldn’t know about you until they got to know you? 

I’m also really passionate about physical therapy and strength training. If it wasn’t for psychology, that’s probably the career I would’ve gone into. The idea of being a strength coach or personal trainer still interests me. I make workout schedules for any of my friends that say they want to get in shape.

Wyman celebrates his birthday with Notre Dame friends

What emoji best represents you?

😉 I used to not be able to wink and it drove me mad, so I spent every day for a month practicing it until I could finally do it. Now, I do it all the time to the point that it annoys my friends.

Cats or dogs or both/neither?

Dogs are my favorite by far. I’ve had about 14 dogs throughout my life and they all have a special place in my heart. Honestly, not having a pet is the thing I dislike most about living in dorms. I can’t wait to move into an apartment and have a four-legged friend waiting for me when I come back from classes every day. I’m allergic to cats so I’ve never been able to own one. But something about them rubs me the wrong way. I think they have it out for me…


See the Previous First-Year Journey Story

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