Commencement Stories — Insia Hirawala

Psychology major has shown she isn't afraid of working hard, taking advantage of opportunities

Insia Hirawala was a Chancellor’s Research Fellow during her senior year at UC Riverside. Photo by Carlos Puma

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Insia Hirawala is not afraid of hard work and long hours. Part of that work ethic comes from her parents, Mobin and Fatima Hirawala, who demonstrated their love and support while providing a shining example of the benefits of working hard and taking advantage of opportunities.

Hirawala, a 22-year old psychology major, transferred to UC Riverside from Santiago Canyon College. Since then, she has made the daily commute from her home in Fullerton, balancing an occasionally challenging commute with her class time. But when the first-generation college student decided that she wanted to attend graduate school to become a counselor, she knew her chances would be aided by undergraduate research experience. And so she threw herself into the undergraduate research opportunities presented by UCR.

Hirawala worked as a research assistant for Professor Rebekah Richert in the UCR Child Cognition Lab, and was inspired to build upon Richert’s research on children’s concepts of God among Judeo-Christian populations by expanding it to Muslim children.

Her project, “Muslim Children’s Conceptualization of Allah and Prayer,” earned her a Chancellor’s Research Fellowship for the 2013–14 school year. It has required her to interview 48 children between the ages of 3.5 and 6.5 to find similarities and differences in how they conceptualize God and prayer. Her research was recently profiled in UCR Magazine.

“My research has provided data for the underrepresented Muslim population,” she said. “Studying children’s conceptualization of God and prayer gives insight as to how they form perspectives of the supernatural as well as the natural. This research will be compiled with the ongoing study being conducted in my research lab and will, hopefully, provide a comprehensive understanding on all three religions.”

Hirawala said that the fellowship has been a great experience, teaching her research skills that she will be able to use as she pursues her advanced degrees. She has relished the challenge of keeping up her coursework, writing her thesis, presenting at conferences and the UCR Undergraduate Research Symposium, applying to graduate school, and keeping up with responsibilities at home.

“Research is being able to put together something so complex,” Hirawala said “As an undergrad I learned a lot—being independent, meeting deadlines … It’s also really rewarding to see results come out of what you initially collected data for. It’s truly fascinating to see all that come together.”

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