Film grad saw opportunity for outdoor adventures, pathway to dream career at ASU

December 14, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

For Maximillian Conacher, attending Arizona State University offered an opportunity to explore a new state and seize adventures on and off campus. Maximillian Conacher Maximillian Conacher graduates this fall with his bachelor's degree in film and media studies from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Download Full Image

“I wanted to experience living in another state other than Texas, where I had spent my entire life. ASU ticked all the boxes from what I wanted to study to experiencing more outdoor activities,” said Conacher. “The location of ASU put me in a great spot to travel to all the new places I’d always dreamed of visiting.”

On holiday and semester breaks, Conacher spent his free time traveling to destination spots like the Grand Canyon; Sedona, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; Moab, Utah; Los Angeles; Lake Tahoe on the boundary of California and Nevada; and Telluride, Colorado.

His ability to travel was helped in part financially by his part-time job as a student worker for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a role he started as a first-year student.

“Working for The College all throughout my college experience gave me the freedom to do what I wanted outside of school, like go on ski trips with the Snow Devils, and taught me how to manage my time both as a student and worker,” he said.

Conacher said being a student worker also offered flexibility while learning hands-on skills.

“The flexibility my job provided me with working hours and adaptability to my schedule was something I can’t say would be the same elsewhere. Not having to commute somewhere off campus was so nice,” he said. “I highly recommend looking for an on-campus job as a student if you want to make a little extra money and work to improve your school in the process.”

Allison Connell, director of marketing and communications in The College, praised Conacher for his consistent display of skills and professionalism.

“Max is an incredibly talented and hardworking student who always went above and beyond in his role as student videographer,” Connell said. “Our team is so grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with him, and we are so proud of his achievements and his commitment to The College."

This fall, Conacher graduates with his bachelor’s degree in film (film and media studies) from the Department of English as well as a minor in business. He shared more about his experience at ASU.

Question: Did you have an “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study film and media studies?

Answer: I knew after taking a film class in my last year of high school that I wanted to pursue a career in film, and the courses provided at ASU put me on the path to achieve that dream. Choosing film and media studies as my major allowed me to learn more about the industry I want to spend the rest of my life working in.

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

A: I learned a lot during my time at The College, but one thing in particular was the advancement and impact social media has on our lives and society today. I was always aware of the downsides of social media, but after taking several courses on social media specifically, I realized that we will always depend on social media for our content needs despite some of the scarier aspects of it. Being someone who wants my work to be showcased on social media, I have learned all the ways I can leverage social media to my advantage.

Q: Did you experience any obstacles along your way? If so, how did you overcome them?

A: As a student, working alongside my studies, I had to learn to prioritize my time in order to finish classwork on time as well as getting in sufficient hours to get projects done at work. The discipline I gained throughout my time at ASU is something I would not have been able to attain elsewhere.

Q: Did you receive any scholarships while at ASU? How did they impact your experience?

A: I received the New American University Scholar Dean's Award, and without that scholarship I would not have been able to attend ASU as an out-of-state student. The scholarship helped me to not worry about money and allowed me to focus on my studies rather than working multiple jobs or attending a university in Texas, where my opportunities would not be the same as ASU.

Q: Were there any clubs/organizations or opportunities that positively impacted your ASU experience?

A: The one club I spent most of my time on different trips and social events was with Snow Devils, ASU’s ski and snowboard club. Meeting people who share the same interests and passions that you do is something everybody should do. Being able to go on trips in the middle and at the end of semesters really helped me recharge for the upcoming semester. The memories I made in the club will stick with me for a lifetime, and the friendships I made will hold strong for years.

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

A: Dr. Sarah Florini taught me what it takes to utilize social media to the best of my ability and showed me the influence social media has on our everyday lives. After every class she taught, I felt empowered with the tools necessary to make a career out of social media. Her classes were some of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had.

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

A: No matter how hard it may be now, keep your head up and push through because you will be thankful for all the hard work in the future. Also, don’t forget to enjoy your four years, because they are some of the best times of your entire life.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I have no concrete plans as of now, but my hope is to work with a large company’s creative team, like Red Bull or Tesla, or maybe even continue to work for The College. I know for certain I will end up in California sometime in the near future, utilizing the things I learned at ASU and from all the experiences I’ve had during my time in Arizona.

Kirsten Kraklio

Content Strategist and Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Sun Devil DACA recipient siblings celebrate graduation together

December 14, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

Siblings Carlos Yanez Navarro and Nicole Yanez Navarro weren’t supposed to “walk the stage” on the same day. Nicole, originally a few semesters behind her brother, took on extra classes each semester so that they could graduate together this December. And while there won’t be an in-person commemoration at Desert Financial Arena like usual, the Yanez Navarros plan on creating their own in their backyard on commencement day, Dec. 14. Their grandmother, who lives in the family’s native Chihuahua, Mexico, might even make the trip to Phoenix. It will also be their father’s birthday. The Yanez Navarro family has much to celebrate, and Carlos and Nicole’s achievements embody decades of sacrifice. Carlos and Nicole Yanez Navarro. Download Full Image

“I knew I wanted to graduate with my brother and give that gift to my parents and my grandmother because they’ve been a huge support for us. We wanted to experience it together,” Nicole said. 

The future is bright for the siblings, but as undocumented students, their journey has been punctuated by obstacles that they and thousands of others face in seeking higher education in the United States. Before they could realize their dreams, they had to overcome barriers that their peers didn’t have to face, including access to very limited financial aid and arduous processes. 

“When I was getting out of high school, I still wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to go to college or receive any further education because of our legal status,” Nicole said. 

With the help of her mother and family friends, Nicole, 23, was able to become a Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals recipient while Carlos, 21, was able to do the same about two years later, which meant temporary assurance that they could remain in the United States, where they have lived since they were children. Meticulous DACA requirements can make or break a person's chances of being a recipient — one part of the process requires proof of residence within the United States in every year since 2007.

“That meant getting six to seven documents a year [since 2007]. We pulled out everything we had — middle school certificates, school attendance records — I remember it being a process,” Carlos said. “We were lucky because we had a lot of written proof, but a lot of people have a hard time with providing these documents.”

Although the DACA process is a difficult and tiring one, it has only fueled inspiration in the Yanez Navarro siblings to take on careers centered around helping others, particularly those in more vulnerable situations. 

Carlos, who is graduating with three degrees this December — justice studies, political science and transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o studies (U.S. and Mexican regional immigration policy and economy) — is hoping to work for a community-based organization as an attorney. He was selected as the Hispanic Convocation Outstanding Undergraduate Student Awardee, and he already has substantial experience working with DREAMzone, a community and resource at ASU dedicated to helping DACA, undocumented and students from mixed-immigration-status families succeed at ASU. Nicole, who currently works as a nurse since she previously earned her associate degree and recently passed the NCLEX-RN, is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in nursing from the ASU Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. She is hoping to eventually open up a nonprofit practice with her friends and fellow nurse practitioners to help people in low-income communities or those who face language and cultural barriers. 

As they prepared to graduate, Carlos and Nicole reflected on their time at ASU and what advice they have for other Sun Devils. 

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

Carlos: For me, I’ve been involved in a lot of community organizing for a while. I started organizing when I was in high school, so I was helping people with their DACA forms and the naturalization process. I was also involved in other community organizations. I used to want to become a doctor and originally started at ASU studying biology. I ended up switching after becoming more involved in volunteering. 

Nicole: I realized that I wanted to major in nursing early on when I was still in middle school. My parents only speak Spanish, and growing up, I always watched my parents struggle with the language barrier when seeking health care. Although translators were always available, many things became lost in translation and a lot of the time they were still left with uncertainty. I knew early on that I wanted to make a difference in the nursing field by being able to communicate with Spanish-speaking families and allow them to leave my care feeling comfortable and knowing that all of their concerns are addressed.

Q: During your time at ASU, what has inspired you or changed your perspective? 

Carlos: As part of our DREAMZone collaborations with on-campus clubs, we worked to build mentorship programs. My mentee’s story really stuck with me. She wasn’t eligible to apply for DACA because of the confusion surrounding the cancellation. She’s fully undocumented without the permit, but she keeps moving forward — she just added a minor and another certificate. The tuition is pretty expensive, and she’s not on any specific scholarships. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

Carlos: So I could stay close to my family. I didn’t want to go out of state because of them. 

Nicole: I chose ASU because they allowed me to begin my bachelor’s program while completing my associate degree in nursing at Gateway Community College. This concurrent enrollment program allowed me to finish both programs only one semester apart from one another and be able to start my nursing career only a few weeks after finishing school.

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

Carlos: Professor Eileen McConnell, from the School of Transborder Studies, really helped me out. I was at the Supreme Court deliberations for the DACA argument last year, and she was the one who helped me afford the plane ticket to Washington, D.C. I was taking one of her classes during the time, and she’s been there for me for the past year helping with recommendations and introducing me to other undocumented lawyers. She has been so helpful. 

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

Carlos: During my time at ASU, I saw all my friends and the people who came through DREAMZone persevere and keep going. Besides DACA recipients, I’ve met some TPS [temporary protected status] holders and people with different statuses. They make the best of the situation and keep pushing through. I think that is something I’d tell other people. We all play with the cards, but it’s still up to us to push through. 

Nicole: Yeah, make the best out of the situation that you have. 

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

Carlos: Hayden Library, but the old one [before renovations]! There were booths on the first basement floor where we’d study. 

Nicole: When I was still doing community college and ASU Online, we’d meet up together and do homework. We were each other’s inspiration the whole time; we kept pushing each other throughout college. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

Carlos: I’m applying to law school right now. I’ve been accepted to two schools so far, so right now I’m waiting on other schools’ decisions and weighing financial aid. I’m planning on studying immigration and asylum law. The Florence Project is a really good example of where I want to work. They get a lot of people out of detention centers and help asylum cases go through. [Carlos now does work for The Florence Project as a legal assistant.]

Nicole: For now, I just graduated with my associate degree in nursing. As soon as I passed the NCLEX-RN exam, I started working as a nurse right away. This is my third month. So once I’m done with my BSN, I’m going to take a break from school and go back to get a master’s in about a year. 

Written by Julian Klein, ASU Student Life

Hannah Moulton Belec

Digital marketing manager, Educational Outreach and Student Services