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ASU Sanford School student receives Outstanding Graduate Award

Picture of Larissa in her ASU cap and gown.

PhD graduate Larissa Gaias.

May 30, 2018

Larissa Gaias recently received her PhD from Arizona State University's T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. In addition to this milestone, Gaias' several other outstanding accomplishments  led to her being featured in front of thousands of graduates at this year’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences graduation ceremony.

Here are a few of the many reasons she earned this years Outstanding Graduate Award.


Gaias was the recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, worth over $160,000. As part of this NSF fellowship, and additional support from the United States Agency for International Development, she undertook a self-directed international project involving original data collection from 12 schools (more than 3,000 students) in Colombia that was designed to understand how schools can help mitigate the negative effects of decades-long armed conflict.

In 2016, Gaias spent seven months in Cartagena, Colombia, researching the effects on students of exposure to armed conflict and community violence. In this project, she worked with faculty at the University of Cartagena and surveyed students in six rural and six urban schools. She also held focus groups for the adults in these adolescents' lives to get a more in-depth understanding of how members of the school community perceived the challenges and opportunities that schools faced. 

Larissa with several ASU students in professional attire in Washington DC.

Representatives from the ASU Student Development Corps at the Society for International Development 2017 annual dinner in Washington, D.C. (Gaias top row right of center)

The goal of this research was to identify particular aspects of the school environment that can better support students affected by violence. Exposure to violence can have negative effects on adolescent development, by reducing educational engagement, social competence and hope, and by increasing aggression, delinquency and substance use. Gaias' research indicated that students who experienced a high level of connectedness, safety, and resources at their schools were not as negatively affected by violence exposure. These aspects of the school environment could lessen the negative impact the traumas of the past 50 years of civil conflict in Colombia has had on adolescent development. 

In recognition of her hard work, Gaias was selected to represent ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and attend the Society for International Development’s annual dinner in Washington, D.C., in December 2017. The mission of SID is to advance equitable development by bringing diverse constituencies together to debate critical ideas, policies and practices that will shape our global future. 

Larissa with several Colombian students in their school uniforms.

Gaias with a group of students from Colombia.

In addition to her scholarly achievements, Gaias has also been involved in two high-profile projects designed to improve the state of education for racial/ethnic minority students, including co-authoring “The State of Latino Arizona: School Funding” with David Garcia. She also has a very impressive publication record, that includes seven publications with five as the lead author.

ASU community engagement 

The ASU Community has also benefitted from Gaias’ scholarship and commitment to applied research. She served as the inaugural chair for the Diversity and Inclusion Sciences Initiative Graduate Research Conference. The aim of the conference was to empower students who are underrepresented in their fields and build capacity for graduate students to promote equitable access to higher education for future students as they advance their careers. Due to her work on this conference, she was invited to attend the 2017 Clinton Global Initiative University meeting


Gaias has taught three in-person undergraduate courses at ASU, for one of which she was awarded the ASU Graduate Teaching Excellence Award. In addition, she has been both a formal mentor, as part of the Sanford School Undergraduate Honors Research program, and an informal mentor to undergraduates working with her on numerous research projects. A student summed up Gaias best when she said, “Amazing role model and she knows her stuff!”

This video was played at commencement before thousands of graduates in spring 2018.

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