Community-minded undergrads awarded for their contributions

May 9, 2014

Each year the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences presents the Sun Angel Funk Award, The Len and Rena Gordon “Spunky” Award and Jean Chaudhuri Memorial Scholarship to students who excel as undergraduate student scholars and contributors to their local community.

This year, four outstanding individuals have been singled out by members of the campus community for special recognition.   Carley Tafoya, recipient of the Jean Chaudhuri Memorial Scholarship Download Full Image

Carley Tafoya: Jean Chaudhuri Memorial Scholarship

Tafoya graduates this May with degrees in American Indian studies and justice studies and a minor in political science. A Dean’s Medalist, she believes the depth of knowledge that she’s developed from her degree choices provide the perfect platform to pursue a degree in law. She says her experiences, “opened my eyes to important factors like the sovereignty of tribal communities, the necessity of education that incorporates American Indian culture, and the vital need for American Indian leaders in all career fields.”

The Chaudhuri scholarship recognizes the achievements of a graduating undergraduate American Indian student who has succeeded in the world outside of his or her culture.

Tafoya offers this bit of advice to incoming ASU freshman: “Work hard, find something you are passionate about, and squeeze some fun into your schedule. Remember every encounter is important, respect people. Remember to give credit where it is due and always be thankful for those that take time for you. Lastly, professors are your number one supporters! Use their office hours and get to know them because they will be your recommenders for future educational and career development. Enjoy ASU it is an amazing place to learn and grow.”

Elija Flores: Len and Rena Gordon “Spunky” Award

This award was established by former associate dean of academic programs, Len Gordon, and his wife to recognize a student who has shown "spunk" in overcoming obstacles to succeed as an undergraduate. 

Flores came to ASU thinking about medical school, but discovered a greater interest in pursuing public health, most particularly in the environmental health field. She says her study abroad experience in Switzerland in particular was a pivotal time in her life, ultimately changing the way that she saw the world. She will receive her degree in global health, with a sustainability minor and a Creative City certificate. Her proudest achievement, however, is being a first-generation student. Fluent in sign language, she embraces the cultural and linguistic challenges that travel brings and hopes to join AmeriCorps or Peace Corps after her graduation in 2015.  Ultimately, she hopes to pursue a graduate degree in sustainability.

Flores believes one important aspect of ASU is the ability to build close connections with staff and teachers that help “give you the tools and resources you need to succeed in your field of choice.”

Samuel DiCarlo and Nicole Hale: Sun Angel Funk Awards.

This award recognizes undergraduate students who demonstrate academic prominence and community-focused awareness with his or her actions. 

DiCarlo graduates in 2015 with bachelor’s degrees in justice studies and in sociology. Studying how people interact with each other and societal institutions fascinated DiCarlo even before he came to ASU. In some senses, social justice and justice studies could be said to be in his blood, with a father serving as a Phoenix police officer, his mother employed by Catholic Charities and his brother an officer with Salt River. While maintaining a 4.0 GPA, he believes one of his great accomplishments as a student has been his internship with the Phoenix Vice Enforcement Unit, which primarily investigates issues related to prostitution and sex crimes. 

“I can help make the public aware that sex trafficking is not just some foreign phenomenon, it is something that happens daily right here in our own backyard. One way in which I am doing this is through my current thesis project, in which I am creating a video that examines why so many trafficking victims are children from the foster care system,” says DiCarlo. “My intention is to one day be able to show it to children in foster care so that they can better understand what makes them vulnerable to being trafficked and how it can be prevented.” 

His devotion to young people is also evident beyond his academic pursuits and experiences and in his work as a nanny to three boys. “What started off as a job has changed into so much more, these boys are my family and they are one of my main priorities in my life.” 

Sun Angel Funk Award recipient Nicole Hale completes her bachelor’s degree in justice studies and another in global studies, with a certificate in human rights, in 2015. While maintaining a 4.0 GPA, she has also been active with Gina’s Team, a non-profit that works with women currently or formerly incarcerated at Perryville Prison. She feels that her experience has allowed her to take her passion for helping others and her studies and apply it to her own community. “I strongly believe that knowledge is useless without action,” notes Hale, who hopes to attend law school and attain a higher degree in public policy. 

Her advice to new students is to “have the courage to throw yourself into any new experience, both inside and outside academic contexts. It takes a great deal of courage to do so, as there are always insecurities and doubts as to whether one is ready and capable or not. However, if you can find a way to simply show up and be present at whatever comes your way, you will find unexpected opportunities. We never know what events or people will shape our lives forever, but we will never find out if we don’t have the courage to show up.” 

Margaret Coulombe

Director, Executive Communications, Office of the University Provost


School of Letters & Sciences Outstanding Graduate is a portrait of perseverance

May 9, 2014

Raquel Aviles once considered herself a long shot when it came to furthering her higher education, but the 40-year-old mother of three has beaten the odds and next week she’ll experience the big payoff.

“Completing my bachelor’s degree has been a long journey for me and I have changed in so many ways,” says Aviles, who has been named ASU’s School of Letters & Sciences Outstanding Graduate for spring 2014. “Many hours of precious time was given but certainly not wasted on my education. ASU has provided me with the opportunity to complete a goal that has been embedded in my heart for several years.” Download Full Image

Aviles will graduate on May 14 with a 4.0 GPA and receive her Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies, concluding one chapter of an educational saga that has spanned almost two decades. Aviles attended the University of Arizona after high school graduation in 1992, but struggled academically and financially. She also worked full-time, which placed an additional burden on her time and priorities. Aviles dropped out in 1995, and the experience left her physically drained and emotionally sapped.

“I left the university with the feeling that the academic world was not for me,” Aviles said. “This was a painful decision felt that a college education was something I would never obtain.”

Aviles married in 1999 and started raising a family. She also worked for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s Health Department in Tucson, where Aviles quickly realized that she needed to complete her education in order to accomplish more for her tribe. She attended classes at Pima Community College after work, but the demands of Aviles’ job caused her to miss important lectures and her GPA to drop. She graduated with Associates of Arts degree in 2011, but it was a painful victory.

“I was very stressed and unhappy. I felt I could not fit both work and education into my life. School was also causing issues at home because I would get home late from class after working all day,” Aviles said. “My husband felt the burden of raising a family on his own. We both decided once I completed my A.A. degree, I needed to seek out other options.”

That other option came in the form of ASU’s online BIS program, which allowed Aviles to adjust her life and school schedule. She found the online courses more convenient but more self-driven.

“Procrastination is not an option online,” Aviles said, who studied at night and on weekends after her kids were fed and put to bed. “Lots of pre-planning and flexible scheduling allowed me to find balance in important areas of my life. I was able to commit to my work, my children’s activities and have time for my husband.”

Aviles admits she struggled in the beginning, but her ASU instructors would not allow her to fail or get discouraged. They made themselves available to her through emails, phone calls and video chats. 

“When Raquel took her first course from me, I would describe her as a good student. By the time she took her last course from me, I would describe her as an outstanding student,” said Dr. Jessica Hirshorn, a senior lecturer with the School of Letters & Sciences. “I witnessed the level of her work and intellect mature as she completed her degree. It is clear that she has the ability to balance work, school and family.”

Aviles is keeping the momentum going with her education. Three days after she collects her bachelor’s degree, she will seek a Master in Health Innovation degree. She will, however, savor the moment.

“My children have seen their mother tired, working hard and caring about the work that needed to be completed,” Aviles said. “Next week they will see their mother graduate from ASU. ” 

Aviles will graduate at 7:30 p.m., May 14, at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.

Reporter , ASU News