First-generation ASU grad follows a path of sustainability

May 20, 2019

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

Sonia Lopez, who graduated with a biological sciences degree from ASU this month, has always been inspired to follow her interest in life on this planet in all its diversity. But she has also been inspired to share that knowledge with others. ASU grad Sonia Lopez Sonia Lopez Download Full Image

Lopez, a first-generation college student, was recruited to TRIO at ASU’s West campus during her freshman orientation. TRIO is a set of federally funded college opportunity programs designed to support first-generation students, low-income students, students with disabilities and veterans.

“TRIO was a second home. I would study and hang out in their office. If I was not in class, research lab or work, you would see me in the TRIO office,” she said.

Not only did Lopez find an amazing organization to be a part of in TRIO, but she also met a wonderful group of people who encouraged her to be more active at ASU. In her time at ASU Lopez was also an active member of the University Hearing Board, the International Food and Culture Club and the Hispanic Honors Society.

Lopez made her mark by helping other first-generation students have a better time at college by giving them the tools they could use to succeed.

“As a first-generation student, I understand how overwhelming university can be and how difficult the sciences are for my peers who share similar backgrounds with me. I hope that by connecting students to research and a great mentor, their experience at ASU is better,” she said.

Lopez shared with ASU Now about her time at ASU, what advice she has for current students and what the future holds for her.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I kept switching between majors! My transcript is a record of that.

I knew I wanted to study the sciences, but it took me a while to realize that all along biology was for me, [which I realized] during the end of my sophomore year. I have always had a deep curiosity in learning about life on our planet Earth.

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

A: I took a marine conservation biology course, and it has completely changed the way I see myself as a consumer. Our planet cannot sustain our current rates of consumption.

Plastic in our oceans and landfills provide physical evidence on how much we consume, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Climate change is one of the greatest challenges my generation will face.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I knew I wanted to get a great education, and [I liked] their commitment to making university attainable to first-generation students.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Beth Polidoro and her lab manager, Cassie (Clement), both challenged me to think critically. Sometimes, I had to create tools to help me process several samples instead of doing two at a time.

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

A: This is the time to explore your interests and build your skills. The education and resources here at ASU are great. You should schedule some time to research what is offered at this university because you’ll discover a project or program you’ll be interested in being involved in.

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

A: Whenever I felt overwhelmed or needed inspiration, I went to the ASU Art Museum. It always put me in a better mood.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My immediate plans are to get plenty of rest before starting my post-graduate job. My educational journey has not yet ended. I plan to go to graduate school to study environmental science or sustainability.

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

A: I would create an organization that would teach and take elementary and high schoolers to nongovernmental organizations across the world so they can learn about conservation efforts. I think seeing how their actions impact local communities would make them more conscious.

Written by Sun Devil Storyteller Austin Davis, EOSS Marketing

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


Expanding obesity prevention to young children in the West Valley

Can early prevention in young children be more effective than intervention later?

May 21, 2019

In the United States, obesity rates among children ages 2 to 19 years old have skyrocketed from 10% in 1999 to over 18.5% in 2016. This has also coincided with an increase in obesity prevalence in adults ages 20 and older from 30.5% to 39.6% in the same time period.

Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer — some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death. Obesity is also associated with increased rates of depression and mental illness and is a leading cause of disordered eating and anxiety among teens. Children who are ethnic minorities and who come from low-income families are the most likely to be obese. Photo by Hisu lee on Unsplash Cady Berkel, associate research professor in the ASU Department of Psychology and co-developer of the Family Check-Up 4 Health program has decided to find out if early obesity prevention in young children and toddlers can be more effective than intervention in older children. Photo by Hisu lee on Unsplash Download Full Image

Cady Berkel, associate research professor in Arizona State University's Department of Psychology and co-developer of the Family Check-Up 4 Health (FCU4Health) program has decided to find out if early prevention in young children and toddlers can be more effective than intervention in older children.

Related: Can parenting skills prevent childhood obesity?

The FCU4Health program is already being tested with kids who are between 6 and 12 years old and have an elevated BMI, but they are now conducting a new study to include children earlier in childhood (ages 2-5) before behavioral patterns of eating and activity have been established.

“Once kids get to a certain point, their behaviors become set,” Berkel said. “If you can establish those early health behaviors, it is a lot easier than trying to undo what has already been done.”

Berkel and the FCU4Health team partnered with the city of Avondale to launch an expansion of the FCU4Health program in a study called, “Healthy Communities 4 Healthy Students.” This new initiative is being supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and First Things First, Arizona’s main resource for early childhood programs. Bayless Integrated Healthcare, Care1st Avondale Resource Center and Avondale School District are also partners on the project.

The program is provided for free for families. It begins with an interview and feedback sessions where families learn about the results of their interviews and set goals for next steps. This could be strategies for monitoring children’s health behaviors — like their diet, physical inactivity, screen time or sleep. It could also be helping families get connected with other resources they need, like enrolling in WIC or job training for parents.


If you or someone you know would like more information about this study, please fill out this form and the team will get in touch with you.

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology