EMT reflects on journey to earn degree while balancing demands of two jobs

April 22, 2021

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

This spring, Dustin Vang is graduating cum laude from Arizona State University, an achievement he accomplished while balancing the demands of working two jobs. Dustin Vang stands with his ASU cap and gown on ASU Online student and EMT Dustin Vang will graduate with his bachelor's degree in political science and a minor in sociology from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences this spring. Download Full Image

Vang works full time as an EMT in California, a pathway inspired by a program he joined in high school, as well as part time at Starbucks, a job he also started in high school but left when he decided to pursue EMT school. He said he was drawn back to Starbucks by the financial support and flexibility offered by the partnership with ASU Online through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan.

“I wasn't eligible for financial aid, and that's kind of the American middle-class struggle right? You make too much for financial aid but not enough to actually afford your $40,000 degree. So it was really relieving to have that support from ASU and Starbucks,” Vang said. “The long nights and the long days, it was totally worth it at the end of it because I got the degree I wanted and was able to make it work.”

Vang is graduating with his bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in sociology from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He said he was attracted to the programs for the additional context they would provide to his career in health care, better equipping him to serve his community.

“I've always been interested in political science, but honestly with all the things going on in the world, I wanted a better understanding of what was really going on versus having other people tell me. I wanted to try to become more well-rounded and be able to form my own opinion on things,” he said.

One moment that stands out to Vang when reflecting on his time at ASU was when he was sent to work as an EMT on Inauguration Day.

“I was finishing school while I was sent out to Washington, D.C., to work the presidential inauguration,” he said. “I was like, ‘I'm finishing up my (political science) degree this year, how cool is it I get to be here?’”

Vang shared more about his experience as an online student and his plans for the future.

Question: How did the Starbucks College Achievement Plan and ASU financial support impact your experience?

Answer: At the beginning of the Starbucks program, which they just changed recently, you paid 40% upfront and then they covered 60%. So you were still responsible for $2,000 to $3,000, plus your books and fees and stuff as well. ASU offered me a grant from the school that lowered my fees each semester and that was just such a relief because sometimes having to pay that much upfront was challenging. I don't know if I would have been able to do it otherwise without having the financial support from both ASU and Starbucks. (The Starbucks College Achievement Plan reimburses students their upfront costs at the end of the semester.)

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

A: Beverly Carlsen-Landy taught my sociology of health and illness class. It was just so interesting to me to see the disparities in health care and quality of patient care in general, based off of people's socioeconomic status and social status in general. It was cool learning about that stuff, then working on a 911 ambulance and getting to see firsthand what I'm learning in school happening in real life too, and trying to see what we can do to make things better for people.

Q: What drew you to working as an EMT?

A: I got into it in high school when the fire department came to my school and said, “Hey, want to do this explorer program and learn about what it means to be a firefighter?” So I was doing that with our fire department for years, then the next step was to become an EMT. I went to the community college, got my EMT license and started doing that, then realized I really like working on an ambulance. I've stayed doing that and my career has grown so much.

Q: How did you balance the demands of school and working two jobs?

A: It was definitely a struggle; any free time I had, I was studying. I don't think there was a day where I did not do something school-related. I was working 12-hour shifts or longer on the ambulance and then Starbucks was seven and eight hour days. I would do at least one thing of schoolwork a day. It seems so worth it now; in the moment you're like, “Wow, this sucks.” But now it’s like, “I did it. I can do a lot.”

Q: As an online student, what did you do to feel connected to ASU and other students?

A: I followed Sun Devils Connect on Facebook. It was cool getting to connect with people and interact with them there. I think I had more fun talking to random people through social media than I did through the class discussion boards; finding people that I have a mutual interest with on social media was exciting.

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

A: I think the biggest advice I have for people is to reach out and ask questions. I think so many people are afraid of committing to one specific school or program that they become afraid to reach out. The advisers and registration folks and financial aid office are so helpful in getting you the resources that you need to actually make it happen.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: One of the big things I'm looking at doing is going to paramedic school because I want to work for the state EMS agency or even one of our local county EMS agencies, and have a big impact on the quality of care and delivering services to the people in that area. Having my bachelor's degree will definitely help get me there; the industry is evolving and I think I'm in a better place having my degree to be able to try to adapt with changes.

Kirsten Kraklio

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


Treatment of marginalized groups helped lead grad into social work career

April 22, 2021

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

Danielle Bosma’s journey into the study of social work began about 10 years ago, when she began to question her church’s view of people identifying as LGBTQ. Danielle Bosma, Outstanding Graduate, Spring 2021, School of Social Work Danielle Bosma, spring 2021 Outstanding Graduate, School of Social Work. Photo courtesy Danielle Bosma Download Full Image

“I joined others — both LGBTQ people and allies — in what has been a meaningful journey,” said Bosma, the spring 2021 Outstanding Graduate of the School of Social Work. “It took me a beat to realize the role of my silence and apathy in perpetuating the harm caused by exclusion and false ‘welcome.’ Listening to stories I hadn’t been able to connect with in the past allowed me to further explore other concerns such as how women, too, are so often marginalized.”

Other experiences propelled her toward social work as well: One was her family's experiences with careers through the economic recession in 2008.

Another was “my own experience of balancing being a mom in situations exacerbated by financial pressures,” Bosma said. “While completing my application essay for the program, I felt surprised by my sense of belonging and purpose in social work, in the field and in psychotherapy.”

Bosma is receiving her Master of Social Work degree along with certificates in trauma and bereavement and in domestic violence and evidence-based practice. She was the recipient of the Marilyn A. Kurns School of Social Work Scholarship and the Flo Eckstein Social Work Fellowship.

Bosma is from Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada, a small community about two hours’ drive north of Edmonton and said she chose ASU because "its mission statement stressing inclusion and responsibility, fuels a collective passion within the academic community and the broader community to ensure that our even our most vulnerable voices are not excluded."

"This mission is foundational for authentically exploring what justice means for children and families who experience relationship or sexual violence or for LGBTQ persons who experience injustice within their families, churches and other systems,” she said.

After graduation, Bosma said she will be working towards becoming a licensed clinical social worker and plans to work as a clinical therapist.

“I’m hopeful that my foundations in trauma and gender-based violence will help me to serve clients towards mental health and improved connectedness with themselves and others,” she said.

Read on to learn more about Bosma’s journey at ASU:

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

Answer: In Dutch-Canadian immigrant culture, which is how I was raised, emotional connectedness is not always valued. Within the broader medical field, of which mental health is a part, there can be a fear of having empathy for patients. Professor Joanne Cacciatore taught us, using her ATTEND model (attunement, trust, touch, egalitarianism, nuance and death education), that by attuning to clients’ emotional needs with empathy, professionals are actually less likely to experience compassion fatigue and eventual burnout. This emboldened me to bring my heart to work with clients and to view the relationship between client and therapist as more egalitarian.

Beyond the textbook and classroom, my internship this year with Terri Waibel, LCSW, at the Center for Compassion, has helped me put ATTEND into action. Deep attunement, along with self-care and healthy boundaries, is both modeled and encouraged in the practice. Through this work and coaching, I continue to move toward being more connected and person-centered with those enduring trauma and loss. 

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

A: Elisa Kawam, in our DSM-5 Diagnosis class, humanized many mental illnesses with stories, videos and thought exercises. She communicated that no mental illness should be stigmatized and that our clients deserve respect, no matter what labels might be present. Her deep compassion for those who endure mental illness, and attempt to navigate our current medical system, was palpable even in our Zoom classroom. She was able to hit home why person-first language is important, in many cases.

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

A: I would give the advice that was given to me by a couple of current and former students: As much as you can, enjoy it! While your work can be stressful, it doesn’t have to only be stressful. A part of you has to ignore the grades and dedicate yourself to being a member of the community – learning and sharing. This can mean a lot of things, like taking any opportunities to make choices that are authentic to you when focusing energies, attention and creativity. Learn about something you are curious about or explore a topic so deeply that you begin to understand the gaps in the research. By taking risks and attempting a playful approach to your studies you can maximize the privilege of participating in academia.

Another piece of wisdom I received was to consider what contribution you are making, even while in school. Professor Kawam taught us, for example, that when preparing presentations to classmates, to focus on providing the work as a service to our classmates. This has made a profound impact on the way I went about preparing to share.

Q: Where was your favorite spot to study, meet friends or to just think about life?

A: With COVID-19 and living off-campus, I didn’t get to spend much time on campus and instead spent most of my time meeting with my classmates, peers and internship colleagues in virtual spaces. While video calls aren’t perfect for connection, I also celebrate the progress that was made in making education more accessible to single parents like me, and in making mental health more accessible to clients via telehealth. 

Another space that is meaningful for me is my journal, my faithful companion. When I open my journal I am both exploring and creating my own world: envisioning what I want or allowing myself to feel and process what is, as simply or creatively as I want. My journals during the program have included countdowns to major deadlines and graduation, of course, as well as small wins, successes, joys and the growing pains of continuing to find myself in learning situations. 

Aside from these spaces, like most Phoenicians, I feel at home wandering among the cacti, with my friends or alone with the quail.

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

A: I worked with the university’s Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention Program for ASU students and with Andrea Kappas in her PhD research within the Office of Gender-based Violence this past academic year. I continue to be passionate about the importance of basic information regarding healthy boundaries, relationships and sexuality for both adults and children.

My domestic violence coursework and readings highlight violence present in so many relationships: dating, the family of origin, marriages and friendships. Further, this violence can be present in many settings: home, workplace or religious organizations. A mainstream curriculum could be developed reinforcing ethical sexual and relationship practices with themes such as mindfulness, body-awareness, gender, consent, respect, communication, assertiveness, anger management, mutuality and self-awareness. A curriculum that is more inclusive of gender and sexual identities would enable all young people to know that they belong.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions