ASU student named Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor of the year

May 1, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

In a ceremony held on April 17 by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona, Hsiao-Ya (Sofia) Chen, a graduating senior from the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, was awarded the Big Thanks Award for her role as volunteer mentor. Sofia holding her award certificate in front of Big Brothers Big Sisters sign Hsiao-Ya (Sofia) Chen at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona award reception Download Full Image

Chen, who will earn a bachelor’s degree in family and human development with a minor in sociology, was selected from over 1,100 volunteers by her program specialist to receive this special award.

Big Brothers Big Sisters helps children realize their potential and build their futures by nurturing children and strengthening communities. They accomplish this by providing children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships (mentors) that change their lives for the better, forever.

According to Big Brothers Big Sisters' promotional resources, children who have a mentor are:

• Less likely to skip school.

• More likely to volunteer in their community.

• Less likely to use drugs and alcohol.

• More likely to participate in extracurricular activities and sports.

• More likely to graduate high school.

It was outcomes like these that drove Chen to apply with Big Brothers Big Sisters as a volunteer mentor. Having a somewhat troubled childhood of her own, Chen has overcome much adversity in her life, which has given her a passion for giving back to others by serving in a variety of volunteer capacities.

She joined Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2016 and waited nearly two years before her mentee match was made. But waiting two years for the perfect match didn’t stop her from giving back, volunteering with both Arizonian’s for Children and Southwest Human Development until her match was made.

In January 2018, Chen received news of her Big Brothers Big Sisters mentee match. She was delighted to learn she had been matched with a 12-year-old girl, whom she would mentor over the next year and a half. While they shared similar childhood experiences, Chen had a unique opportunity to see her family and human development studies play out right in front of her.

“It was very interesting and rewarding to see this little girl go through life transitions that I’ve been studying, like puberty and becoming a teenager,” Chen said. 

Sofia committed to spending time with her mentee to make the most out of the mentoring process. Beyond the outings organized by Big Brothers Big Sisters, Chen committed to spending time with her mentee every Saturday for at least two to four hours. And she recalls some of the little things that made her realize that her mentee really cared about the bond they had built.

“Occasionally I would prepare a picnic for my mentee, exposing her to some food from my home country, like Taiwanese pancakes. I told her the Mandarin name for the food only once or twice, and weeks later she would ask me when we could have more of the pancakes, referring to them in the native language,” Chen said. “Those are the little things that made me happy.”

Her desire to serve others, like that of her mentee, has also translated to great success for Chen within ASU’s Sanford School.

“Sofia Chen is passionate about helping children and families — she shows this through her work with the Child Development Lab, her involvement in BBBS, and her work in the PEACPositive Environments for Adolescents and Children lab designing interventions to support parenting for children exposed to trauma,” PEAC lab Assistant Professor Sarah Lindstrom Johnson said.

Upon graduating from ASU this May, Chen will continue her studies after being accepted to the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work. She has also decided to defer her graduate school start until 2020 so she may move to Denver and spend a year working in the community. She hopes to continue her service to youth and families with locally based Shiloh House. She also intends to stay in contact with her Big Brothers Big Sisters mentee for years to come.

John Keeney

Media Relations Coordinator, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics


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The College welcomes new leaders to three distinctive social science units

May 1, 2019

Whether used to explore the nuances of human evolution or to examine the political, ecological and cultural facets shaping the human experience today, the social sciences give us the tools to decipher our world.

To Elizabeth Wentz, dean of social sciences in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University, creating academic units capable of capturing that breadth is both a challenge and an opportunity.

“We have social science faculty whose research and classes are closer to physical sciences, and others that are very much in line with the humanities,” she said. “Leading these units requires a 30,000-foot view to bring people together who conduct their work in very different ways.”

That big-picture outlook is only continuing to grow as the School of Social Transformation, the School of Transborder Studies and the American Indian Studies program gain new leadership this July.

Each unit possesses qualities that are unique to ASU. The School of Transborder Studies is the only unit of its kind in the country. The American Indian Studies program is distinguished by its autonomy from other schools and broad range of research, faculty and degree tracks. The School of Social Transformation serves as a platform where a multitude of disciplines spanning anthropology, sociology, cultural studies and social justice come together under one roof.

“These are three very interdisciplinary schools where faculty from many backgrounds come together around particular themes like inequality and the social, political, historical and cultural drivers behind it,” Wentz said. “We wanted to find leaders who fit into that field and also aligned with the access and impact-minded mission of the ASU charter.”

With 13 total units, the social sciences account for the largest division in The College — which is itself the largest academic body at ASU — and incorporate components of anthropology, sociology, justice studies, urban planning, communication and more.

Wentz said identifying how all those components fit into the larger ASU ecosystem keeps them in a constant state of evolution.

“Social sciences are all over the university, and while we can define ourselves by discipline, we can also define ourselves based on the problems we solve,” she said. “These new leaders present a chance to launch their schools into a new era.”

Stephanie Fitzgerald, American Indian Studies

Stephanie Fitzgerald will take over the helm as director of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' American Indian Studies program.

Stephanie Fitzgerald is a Cree tribal member who comes to the American Indian Studies program after overseeing a similar unit at the University of Kansas. Her research explores the relationships between indigenous groups, land tenure, climate change and tribal, state and federal law.

She is the author of “Native Women and Land: Narratives of Dispossession and Resurgence” and the co-editor of “Keepers of the Morning Star: An Anthology of Native Women's Theater,” among other publications.

While other universities have indigenous and Native American studies programs, they are often integrated into umbrella departments like English, anthropology and history. By contrast, Wentz said dedicating an autonomous unit to the American Indian Studies program allows interdisciplinary academics and research to thrive.  

“Our physical position in the United States with the number of tribal nations here really demands that we have an independent program at ASU,” Wentz said. “Stephanie Fitzgerald brings an incredible level of scholarship, but also an appreciation for the expansive goals of the program.”

Fitzgerald also highlighted the unit’s size and focused platform as being key aspects that brought her to ASU.

“This is a vibrant program with strong support from the public and the ASU administration, in a state with 22 tribal nations,” she said. “I see coming to ASU as a chance to continue building that up.”

Pardis Mahdavi, School of Social Transformation

Pardris Mahdavi will take the helm as director of the School of Social Transformation at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Pardis Mahdavi is a medical anthropologist whose research has focused on sexual and gender politics and their interaction with labor migration and social movements across the Middle East and Asia.

She is the author of several publications on the subjects, including her first, “Passionate Uprising, Iran’s Sexual Revolution,” in 2008, and her most recent, “Crossing the Gulf: Love and Family in Migrant Lives,” in 2016.

She comes to ASU from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. As part of The College, she hopes to help drive global platforms forward through international research collaborations and dual-degree programs.

“One of the things that drew me to this program is that it has transcended the idea of interdisciplinarity,” she said. “People inside The College are doing something that I consider to be a next-level intersectionality among the studies.”

Mahdavi will succeed Bryan Brayboy, a professor in the School of Transformation who has served as its interim director over the last year.

“The aspiration of social transformation and the global perspective it hopes to reach is huge,” Wentz said. “Bryan BrayboyBryan Brayboy also serves as the director of ASU's Center for Indian Education and the special adviser to the president on American Indian Affairs, a position created by ASU President Michael Crow to oversee university initiatives related to Native American and indigenous issues and programs. has really been a steady hand in opening up the pathway to get this unit to a collaborative place I believe Pardis Mahdavi wants to continue to shape.” 

Irasema Coronado, School of Transborder Studies

Incoming School of Transborder Studies Director Irasema Coronado.

Irasema Coronado comes to ASU from an endowed professorship in the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas in El Paso.

Raised in the border-hugging city of Nogales, Arizona, she has spent over 25 years studying cross-border resource management, water rights and environmental policies, in addition to immigration, asylum and deportation in the Arizona-Sonora region.

Coming to ASU was a chance to continue that work and help increase the impact of the School of Transborder Studies.

“This is the only doctoral program in the country for border studies, which is my specialty,” she said. “I also believe research should be measured by the difference it makes in people’s lives, and I think The College and this school exemplify that.”

Developed in 2011, the School of Transborder Studies looks at the borderland as a concept in itself. Whether it’s the international line between the U.S. and Mexico, or the boundary separating North and South Korea, faculty and students within the school explore the ecological, historical and social components that make these areas unique.

“There are people doing fabulous research on Mexican American issues, and the School of Transborder Studies itself emerged from a form of Chicana/o studies, but that’s not necessarily doing research on the border itself,” Wentz said. “Irasema Coronado is truly a border scholar, and that is really what she brings to the table.”

Top photo: Armstrong Hall on the Tempe campus is the new headquarters for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. With 13 programs and schools that transcend traditional studies, the social sciences are the largest division within The College. This summer, three of its units will welcome new leaders. 

Writer , The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences