Tyhesia Simpson-Van Beek was born in Chicago and lived there until the age of seven. She spent the next four years in foster care, sometimes suffering abuse. She finally settled in with permanent adoptive parents in Iowa at age eleven. Tyhesia and her two siblings were fortunate. Their initial foster placements separated them, but Tyhesia’s new parents were willing to adopt all three children, and the family was reunited.
Matriculating at George Washington University in Washington, DC, Tyhesia thought she would become a psychologist. “But I took psych courses and thought there was too much focus on the brain and not enough on social interaction,” she says. “I told a career counselor I wanted to inspire and empower children to be contributing members of society and eliminate the stresses minority children face in social service systems.” The counselor suggested Tyhesia major in Human Services and Social Justice.
“My interest was based on lived experience,” Tyhesia points out. “Because I was foster child and was adopted, I struggled with my identity in a family of a different race, but my faith and passion helped me through.” Personal experience also motivates Tyhesia’s interest in service provision. “In high school, I provided meals and hosted events for the elderly,” she recalls. “My family volunteered through our church. I was always active in service-oriented activities and I enjoyed volunteering.” In college, her service learning requirement included working with her church, keeping kids involved during summers, and serving as a teaching assistant in a DC elementary school. Studying abroad in a suburb of Cape Town in South Africa, Tyhesia helped a project to promote entrepreneurship in tourism with the goal of providing financial resources for the community.
At that time, Tyhesia was also contemplating graduate school. She returned from South Africa, and found that the U-M School of Social Work had sent her information. “When I saw they had a child welfare scholarship,” she says, “I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I saw all the opportunities they had to offer—plus they were number one!” She grins. “When someone knows you graduated from Michigan, it levels you up. I thought, “Why not go to best place that will give me the knowledge to address tough issues, develop skills and pursue my career goals?”
Tyhesia describes her goals: “The first step is to become a licensed clinical social worker, then in two years I want to be in private practice. I want to do research and write a book on the realities of adoption. I want to start my own nonprofit to address child welfare issues innovatively, so a family has multiple needs met in one place. Further down the line I also want to do political work.”
Of the impact of her Sims Endowed Award, Tyhesia says, “The greatest thing was being able to have financial stability. I can focus on my program and put my best self forward. A scholarship like Sims helps students like me get the education they need to make a difference.”