Sociology grad’s academic journey to social work began with a childhood illness

April 19, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Natalee Lauro is no stranger to difficult times. She was diagnosed with brain cancer at the young age of 8.  Natalee Lauro Photo courtesy of Natalee Lauro Download Full Image

“The entire process was very depressing, painful and sometimes just completely soul-crushing," she said. "My social worker helped me through these difficult times and that is when I realized when I grew up, I wanted to be a social worker and help others just like those who helped me throughout my cancer and recovery experience.”

A first-generation graduate, Lauro is well on her way to make those dreams come true. She is graduating this spring with a major in sociology and a minor in communication.

Besides having a passion for helping others, she is also an avid animal lover. She is a firm believer that having a therapy dog during her recovery from brain surgery truly saved her life.

“I remember being stuck in the NICU and I couldn’t even open my eyes or pick up my head. One day, they brought a therapy dog in and she climbed into my bed. As soon as I felt that warm, furry body, I knew exactly what it was and I really think that was the turning point in my life because after that I started to progress. That is a big reason why I’m so passionate about animals.”

Lauro says she has really enjoyed her time at ASU and appreciates all the help and guidance given to her. She plans to continue to get her master’s degree through ASU in order to give back to the community, help others and strive to make a difference in the world. She shared a bit more of her experience by answering a few questions.

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

Answer: I will say that during my time at ASU, I have learned a lot about myself and what I am capable of. It has always been my habit to underestimate and doubt myself. Throughout my many accomplishments at ASU, I’ve realized that I am capable of so much more than I give myself credit for.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU for its outstanding reputation and for all the great things I have heard through my friends, teachers and members of the family.

Q: As an ASU Online student, what ASU resources did you take advantage of and find most helpful on your journey to completing your degree?

A: I personally found having a success coach, along with an academic adviser, Lisa Barth, the most helpful. As an incoming online student I was worried that I wouldn’t have a support system; I was nervous and fearful that I would be seen as just another number on the board. But I was pleasantly surprised to find how strong of a connection I was able to form with my success coach and how supportive and helpful my academic adviser was, together they both guided and steered me through my journey at ASU.

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

A: Each one of my professors taught me unique and individual lessons that collectively all ring true and overall contribute into my work ethic, and that is to ask for help when needed, don’t sit there in silence because fear or shame hinders you. You must be brave and bold enough to ask for yourself, because no one else will.

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

A: There is a quote I refer to: “Mistakes are proof that I am trying." No one is perfect; we all make mistakes, but that is part of the educational journey — that’s part of life.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: My bedroom or the office is where I spent my time studying; secluded and quiet places are what helps me the most when studying.

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

A: I would tackle an issue that I am very passionate about and that is animal abuse. I love animals with all my heart and the thought of an animal being mistreated or neglected is enough to make me sick to my stomach. If someone gave me $40 million to solve this problem, all the money would go towards protecting animals, both domestic and wild.

Shelley Linford

Marketing and Communications Manager, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics

ASU grad passionate about a career in child protective services

April 19, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Even though life hasn’t always gone the way she planned, Angelica Lopez has a courage and strength about her that is contagious. She’s had to take on a lot of responsibilities that could have derailed her dreams of a higher education, but she has persevered. Angelica Lopez Photo courtesy of Angelica Lopez Download Full Image

Lopez is a first-generation graduate who originally didn’t think it would be possible to gain a degree in higher education. Thanks to a high school teacher who saw her potential and believed in her, she was able to see it in herself and made the decision to attend college. She wanted to go somewhere that would make herself and her family proud. After visiting the Tempe campus, she knew ASU would be her choice.

“The environment was very welcoming, the students were friendly, and it was perfect in my eyes!” she said.

Lopez is graduating this spring with a degree in family and human development. Using her own experiences as motivation, she hopes to better the community with what she’s learned. Her ultimate goal is to become a social worker who can help children stay safe and flourish in healthy environments.

Lopez answered a few questions about her journey at ASU.

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

Answer: Rather than one particular “aha” moment, it has been more of a progression over time. I have always known that I wanted to learn more about the family and how certain upbringings affect child development. Then my senior year of high school solidified this interest and I became passionate about supporting children who have directly experienced or witnessed domestic violence, specifically. I can relate to these kids, so I made a promise to myself that I would major in a field where I would be better educated on family dynamics, with the professional goal of working for Child Protective Services (CPS). I hope my education can help me be a better case manager who protects and honestly cares for every child’s life who enters CPS and is impacted by instances of domestic violence.

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

A: In many of my classes I learned a lot about the family and how every person affects how families function, but I especially paid attention to better understand families impacted by domestic violence. For example, it is common for people to place blame on women who remain in abusive partnerships. I will admit that I held this belief, to some extent, myself. My courses taught me that these family dynamics are complex, and it isn’t fair or accurate to place all of the responsibility on those who stay in abusive situations. I learned to see things from various perspectives and that there are a lot of reasons why women stay, despite ongoing abuse.

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

A: Dr. Casey Sechler taught me that it was OK to speak up and talk to someone if I was struggling to balance my personal life and my academics. I never told any professors of mine when I had any sort of difficulty accomplishing or fully focusing on school, not until Dr. Sechler was one of my professors. She reached out to me and it was the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me. She noticed that there was a possibility that I was not OK. During this time, I was responsible for providing the bulk of care for my younger siblings because my mom was working so much during the pandemic. We were all attending school remotely; I was taking more classes than usual, and it was a lot to manage. At some points I felt like I should drop out because I could not focus 100% on my schooling. Dr. Sechler helped me realize that I could do it and she tried her best to work with me and anything I needed. To this day she still checks up on me, which I am beyond grateful for.

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

A: To those still in school I would say to never stop believing in yourself and to take a break and care for your mental health if needed. School will always be there, and you will accomplish your goals, but you need to believe it first and take care of your body along the way. This is something we often hear but don’t always practice, or at least I didn’t. When I was overwhelmed and struggling, thankfully I looked for help and that allowed me to realize that if I took care of my body it would help my self-esteem and in turn help me be successful in reaching my goals.

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

A: Without a doubt, the Starbucks right outside the Memorial Union. My friends and I would go there to study, and it was just so relaxing. Sipping on my iced chai latte as I worked on some discussion boards or statistics. Watching how vibrant our student life was, was so refreshing. The shade and the perfect breeze we got at times made me feel at peace.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, my main goal is to work for Child Protective Services. I want to be the best case manager I can be: someone who can truly determine if and when a child is in danger. There are many telltale signs that case managers miss, and I hope I am effective at speaking with children and finding out the truth about their situation so that I don’t miss the things that are commonly overlooked. I also plan to continue my education, hopefully get my master's soon in either social work or marriage and family therapy. As long as I have a job where I can help families that experience abuse, I will be satisfied with my life. I want to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

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

A: The problem I would tackle is child abuse. Children are the most innocent beings on this planet and in no way do they deserve to be treated in horrid ways because they do not have the capacity to hurt another human in the same manner. Their souls are pure, and they should be kept like that for as long as can be. I want to protect children from abuse of all kinds — physical, psychological, emotional abuse, etc. There is not any justification for why someone would hurt a child in any manner, yet we know how often this occurs, unfortunately. Child welfare services are also so underfunded, it would be a dream to solve problems that lead to child abuse.

Shelley Linford

Marketing and Communications Manager, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics