Alumni spotlight: Iresha Picot (H&S '07)
Iresha has built an incredible start to her early career—not only as a behavioral support resource for families with autistic children but also as an experienced educator, birth advocate and published author.
During her studies at VCU, Iresha focused her coursework in the departments of African American Studies, Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies and Sociology. Her classes helped her form a solid understanding of systemic educational and health disparities and gaps in identity narratives that launched her into her eventual career path. “Majoring in AFAM and Women’s Studies gave a great springboard into knowing myself better. My classes made me feel really good about my place in life and existence as a black woman.”
Following her graduation from VCU, Iresha pursued a graduate degree at Temple University in Philadelphia. With an opportunity serve as a graduate fellow in a local under-resourced school, she had an opportunity to work on issues of school reform and helped build community partnerships in local area schools. She quickly came to the conclusion educational training and supportive partnerships while important were not going to combat the behavioral challenges that were frequently an impediment to classroom learning. And so, after earning a master’s in education in 2009, Iresha continued her training with a post-graduate certification in applied behavior analysis and autism at Arcadia University.
Now, as the clinical lead at the Center for Autism, Iresha leads an early intervention program for two to six year old autistic children. She oversees individual and family therapy, clinical decisions, directs interventions, assesses and analyzes behavioral data, develops client specific treatment plans, supervises the center’s therapists and acts as the lead in treatment team meetings. Coordinating evaluations, consultations with a team of therapists and making treatment recommendations, she works hard for her patients while also providing parents and families the resources they need.
Iresha’s workday frequently continues beyond the doors of the Center for Autism for what she describes as her passion work—being a doula. With her proclivity for activism and advocacy, a friend encouraged Iresha to consider birthwork. Initially, she served as an abortion doula with Planned Parenthood, providing emotional and physical support to women during abortion procedures. Now having completed doula training, she has expanded her work to include support for birthing mothers. “It has been the most rewarding work—providing emotional and physical support during one of the most intimate, empowering and vulnerable moments in a woman’s life.”
With her breadth of experience, education and training, Iresha has also become an advocate for minority mental health. Co-edited with a friend who openly shares their own struggle with bipolar disorder, Iresha published "The Color of Hope: People of Color Mental Health Narratives," aiming to fill a void of literature that discusses mental health struggles for people of color. “Mental illness affects people of all backgrounds yet many people of color go untreated.” The book sheds light on mental health in communities of color by sharing stories of those affected by mental illness in order to break through stigma and shame. The book is generating tremendous response near and far. “Since publication, schools and organizations have contacted us as they are discussing the book in their communities and classrooms. I have heard from the University of Wyoming, the National Black Mental Health Alliance and National Public Radio.”
Clearly, Iresha’s penchant for advocacy, service and activism is keeping her busy. Her tireless and enthusiastic commitment continues to fuel change for the communities she serves.