News Detail

Psychology and Neuroscience graduate DiShawnn Newell is featured in this UW Perspectives profile.



DiShawnn Newell’s interest in psychology started with a grade-school crush. When the girl of his dreams ditched him for another boy in elementary school, he questioned all her friends to understand why. “It was my rudimentary way of exploring the way people think and behave,” he says.

Newell’s fascination with the human mind has never waned. This month he graduates from the UW with a BA in psychology and a BS in neuroscience. But his path to his degrees was anything but direct.

Newell started college more than a decade ago in his home state of Illinois, completing two years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before deciding to join the military. He became a nuclear electrician in the U.S. Navy, responsible for nuclear reactors and nuclear electricity on submarines. Eight years later he was ready to return to civilian life. “I wanted nothing to do with electricity or nuclear power ever again,” he laughs. What he wanted — still — was to study psychology.

After taking required calculus courses at Olympic College in Bremerton, where he was stationed, Newell transferred to the University of Washington. He was nervous about returning as an older student fresh out of the military.

“I started at the UW about six weeks after I got out of the military,” he recalls. “I had been wearing a uniform every day for the past eight years and had somebody telling me where to be and what to do. My first day at the UW, I spent three hours just trying to figure out what to wear. What are civilian clothes? Then I stepped on campus and suddenly I’m in a sea of people. Hundreds of student clubs were on Red Square vying for attention. It was a sensory overload.”

Far from being daunted by the commotion, Newell was energized. “I was like a kid in a candy store,” he says. “I needed to explore everything.” That’s where he discovered the UW Men's Rugby Club, which he joined this past year. He also learned about Phi Beta Sigma, a Black fraternity with a focus on academics and leadership. Though Newell was eager to connect with other African American students on campus, he wasn’t sure a fraternity would be a good fit given his age. A conversation with fraternity members convinced him.

“They just won me over,” Newell says. “They were younger than me, but so focused and deliberate in what they do. Their maturity just impressed me.” Another plus: Phi Beta Sigma has no residential house. “I’d slept in nine-man bunks for years,” Newell says. “I was happy to stay on my own, thank you.” After joining Phi Beta Sigma, he later became vice president of the fraternity and treasurer of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which oversees all Black fraternities and sororities.

Read the entire article here.