Campus, community involvement connects first-generation grad to her career

Patty Santillanes-Soto

ASU spring 2018 graduate Patty Santillanes-Soto has advocated for others through a handful of groups both on and off campus. Photo by Courtney McCune/ASU


Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

For some time, Patty Santillanes-Soto thought she wanted to be a history teacher; but in studying history, her priorities shifted. 

“In one of my classes, I realized I wanted to help people in ways that other professionals couldn’t. I wanted to be there for people who need the most support and advocate for them,” she said. “Now more than ever, marginalized groups need advocates to promote social justice and equality.”

Santillanes-Soto put this desire to work while at ASU and will soon graduate magna cum laude with a degree in social work and minor in criminology and criminal justice from ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Not only is she graduating with honors, but she will be the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Santillanes-Soto transferred to ASU from South Mountain Community College, where she was part of the TRIO Student Support Services program. TRIO SSS provided her with essential skills and resources to help her transfer to the university successfully and excel in achieving her degree.

While at ASU, she was a member of and student worker for the TRIO SSS program at the Downtown Phoenix campus, providing her the opportunity to help other first-generation college students pursue higher education.

Along with TRIO, Santillanes-Soto demonstrated her commitment to supporting and advocating for others on and off campus.

For two semesters, she gained professional experience as an intern at the Chicanos Por La Causa De Colores domestic violence shelter, where she assisted case managers and legal advocates. 

On campus, she was a member of Sparky’s Welcome Team, where she welcomed ASU freshmen and their families to the university and assisted them with moving into their residence halls. She also volunteered at many events with Changemaker Central, including Devils in Disguise, ASU’s largest student-led day of service.

After graduation, Santillanes-Soto will continue on at ASU in the Master of Social Work Child Welfare Education Program and will work for Arizona’s Department of Child Safety for 18 months after she completes her master’s.

Ultimately, she would like to work with children and families through Chicanos Por La Causa, carrying on her Sun Devil spirit of service and support for those in need.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective? 

A: As a social work major I was taught to recognize my biases and to not let them get in the way of working with clients. I was also able to truly learn the difference between sympathy and empathy and how knowing this difference can build rapport with clients and help them reach their goals. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU? 

A: I chose ASU because it is very close to home and was not as expensive as other universities. In high school and at the community college level I was also able to speak to many ASU representatives that made me feel comfortable with choosing ASU. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: My advice would be to get an internship to obtain some experience even if your major does not require it for graduation. Getting hands-on experience will help you so much in the long run, and it will give you an edge when you start your career. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: The TRIO Downtown Office is always my go-to place because most of my friends are a part of the program. I'm able to heat up my lunch there, or go into the computer lab and print something out or hang out in the lobby and just talk to other students.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: A week after graduation I will begin my graduate school courses to obtain my Master of Social Work degree in a year from ASU.  

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: The problem I would like to solve would be to increase educational opportunities for both children and adults.  

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