ASU grads committed to community solutions

Priscilla Guadarrama, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice graduate. Photo by Adrianna Ovnicek/ASU

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

More than 250 graduates will walk across the stage this fall as part of Arizona State University's College of Public Service and Community Solutions fall convocation. Among them are four women who are recognized as outstanding graduates from their respective schools — and exemplify a commitment to public service, innovative thinking and finding solutions for the issues in their community.

Priscilla Guadarrama
School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

For Priscilla Guadarrama (at left) walking across the graduation stage for School of Criminal Justice and Criminology means not only overcoming work, homework, an internship and full-time credit hours, but also the challenges of first time motherhood. Yet with all of this, she will be the first in her family to graduate from college.

She says motherhood, despite its challenges, taught her valuable skills, such as time management. She learned to juggle various activities along with her responsibilities as a mother and still felt that her quality of work as a student remained consistent.

“It’s definitely challenging,” Guadarrama said. Her son, Edison, was born a couple days before the 2015 spring semester.

Taking on motherhood in her senior year was doubly challenging as she took on credits as a full-time student in order to maintain her scholarship.

Despite her new responsibilities, Guadarrama also participated in out-of-class activities, including an internship at Moma’s House, a safe house that aims to rehabilitate female survivors of domestic abuse and sex trafficking.

For the last year and a half, Guadarrama worked with Assistant Professor Danielle Wallace as part of an undergraduate research team studying perceptions of race on disorder and researched how different racial groups perceive disorder.

The two began working together when Guadarrama approached Wallace with an interest in pursuing research.

“She’s the ideal undergraduate for me to work with because she’s excited to be here and she’s interested in the topic,” Wallace said.

She believes the findings of the research are important so law enforcement professionals and others are aware of any racial biases or prejudices that may interfere with their work or daily lives.

“She kind of took me under her wing. She taught me how to do research and got me interested in that area,” Guadarrama said. “After I had my son, she was very supportive as well. I wanted to have that kind of impact on other students.”

Guadarrama plans to get a doctoral degree to teach at the university level and conduct research addressing the victim to offender cycle as well as rehabilitation methods.

“We have these perceptions embedded into ourselves and we need to be able to liberate ourselves from them to be more open-minded to different situations and people,” Guadarrama said.

Leonor Camarena
School of Public Affairs

With involvement in a variety of areas, Leonor Camarena (photo below) exemplifies the interdisciplinary spirit of ASU.

As part of her Barrett, the Honors College thesis, Camarena addressed issues of inequality in the ROTC program at ASU and other universities. She was in the Naval ROTC at ASU for four and a half years before she chose to disenroll.

As a result of her thesis publication, Camarena said the ROTC program implemented changes to better include female ROTC students.

“They’ve brought in female leaders within the military to speak to the females there, since there are very few women within the ROTC program,” Camarena said. The new addition gives students more insight as to what to expect as a female within the military and their leadership potential.

While pursuing her master’s in public administration, she worked two jobs and chose to continue her education through the summer as a full-time student.

A semester before graduating, Camarena found meaningful work at the local nonprofit Chicanos Por La Causa, which offers services to more than 200,000 individuals and families throughout Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico each year.

“They assist individuals in every capacity you could imagine, which is why I love it so much,” Camarena said. “My position is in housing, but we do everything from social work to helping with economic development.”

As she prepares to pursue her doctorate, Camarena has become interested in researching the barriers and challenges facing women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), in particular the experiences of Latinas in STEM.

“One thing I’ve noticed is there’s a lack with retention for women in STEM careers, and so I would like to pave that forward with future research,” Camarena said.

Brenna Bean
School of Community Resources and Development

The night before she began her freshman year, 18-year-old Brenna Bean (photo below) was involved in a traumatic car accident that left her with a spinal cord injury which paralyzed her from the chest down. But Bean’s determination and optimism turned the tragic event into something that would steer her career path and forge new passions.

Since the injury, she discovered a new passion for recreational therapy and disability advocacy, and now works to counter the stigma associated with persons with disabilities.

“I was able to still be involved in my community and still do the things I wanted to do post-injury,” Bean said. “It was the moment that I discovered that about myself that I knew I needed to help other people achieve that.” This fall, Bean is graduating from the School of Community Resources and Development with a bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation management with a concentration in therapeutic recreation.

“After being injured, I discovered how much inequality there was for people with disabilities,” Bean said. “I think that it’s really important for us as a society to start moving in a more positive direction and accepting people with disabilities as capable and equal.”

She is currently interning at St. Joseph’s Hospital Barrow Neurological Institute and volunteers at the Virginia G. Piper Sport & Fitness Center for Persons with Disabilities. She’s also a member of the ASU wheelchair basketball team, which is in its first season.

“In looking toward social equality for person with disabilities, half of the battle is helping the individuals achieve their own goals and perceive themselves as strong, capable, confident members of society despite their limitations,” Bean said.

Last year, Bean received the Arizona State Therapeutic Recreation Association Student Recognition Award for her community involvement.

“Her spirit and vitality has been an absolute asset to Arizona State University. I can only imagine what she’s going to accomplish in the years ahead,” said Kelly Ramella, faculty advisor to the Arizona State Therapeutic Recreation Student Association.

Bean will continue to play wheelchair basketball for ASU through the rest of the 2015-16 season, stay personally immersed in adaptive sports and work toward further recognition as a wheelchair basketball player on the national level. She hopes to earn her therapeutic recreation certification and continue with a graduate education to study rehabilitation, disability studies or exercise and wellness.

“I really believe that every person, regardless of disability or not, has the right to be happy through recreation and has the ability to be happy through recreation,” Bean said.

Mocha De los Santos
School of Social Work

As the first in her family to graduate from college, Mocha De los Santos (photo below) didn’t let failing two courses deter her from achieving a diploma.

De los Santos worked her way up throughout the last year and a half through to become a manager of the Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS). CASS is the largest shelter provider in Arizona, offering supportive services for men, women and children experiencing homelessness in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “I feel like this is where I’ve grown into the person that I am today. It’s allowed me to make errors, fix them and learn overall career-wise that this is what I really want to do.”

There, De los Santos worked with her team to help rebuild the lives of people dealing with various social stigmas and individual transitioning from prison back to society. As shelter manager, she enacted a plan to keep the shelter at full capacity at all times by calling incoming families a few days earlier.

“As a social worker, it is literally your job to create social change,” she said. “CASS has been that stepping stone for me to change the population that I’m working with and help them grow into sustainable individuals.”

Written by Andres Guerra Luz