Women of Impact: Joya Maser

Future Psychiatrist

by M. Diane McCormick, Photography by Kelly Ann Shuler

Joya Maser, Future Psychiatrist

This is the story of a Susquehanna Township High School basketball player, Class of ’16, who could have signed up for collegiate ball but had other ideas. Joya Maser scored 754 points in her notable career and helped lead her senior-year team to its first district playoffs since 2012.

Still, Maser knew in her sophomore year that she would not pursue collegiate basketball. An AP psychology course did the trick. Suddenly, she saw the intersection of her interest in medicine and the human mind, and she set her sights on a career in neuroscience, perhaps becoming a psychiatrist someday. Collegiate sports would interfere with the intense academics and training ahead.

Breaking the news was hard. Everyone “thought I was crazy,” she says. Her dad “was devastated.”

“Once I explained to him where I was coming from about wanting to focus on my academics because the major I wanted to pursue is so intense in college, he definitely understood,” she says now. “I think then they were more impressed by my decision than shocked by it.”

Academics were always her focus. A “B” on her report card would make her angry. Science studies came easily. An exclusive program connecting high-school students with Penn State Hershey medical students introduced her to neurobiology and its applications in solving the mysteries of the mind. She loved that part, which reminded her of the logic exercises she enjoys.

“We got to hold human brains,” she says. “There’s no room to be nervous, because you can’t drop it. They just hand you the brain.”

Basketball taught her to “lead by example,” she says. For instance, “in practice, it’s easy to slack off and fall behind in drills. You know it’s not a game. I’m always going 100 percent in practice.”

Her involvement in student government, Key Club and National Honor Society, plus her focus on academics, also showed leadership by example, she believes.

“My teammates would see me reading on bus rides or studying in the bleachers,” she says. “They’re laughing, but I think they also respect that and take it seriously. I think it’s definitely shown them that you can do both.”

Now, she’s entering the University of Pittsburgh, in her parents’ hometown. She has attended Susquehanna Township schools her whole life, where she says she has “learned about diversity, how to work with different types of people, how to get along with different types of people, form friendships with different types of people.”

The potential for conducting research in Pitt’s vast medical system appeals to Maser. So does the idea of striving for a profession where “you can’t stop learning. There are discoveries being made and things being updated. Even after you have a degree or medical license, you have to keep on learning.”

If Maser succeeds in establishing a career in neuroscience or psychiatry, she hopes someday to “bring attention to mental health or different brain-related issues. Not everything is an easily fixed sickness with antibiotics. The brain is so important, and there’s not a lot that we know about it. There’s so much that’s left undiscovered, so I’m hoping to be able to contribute to that and hopefully shed some light on things that aren’t clear right now.”

This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Harrisburg Magazine