Second-generation Sun Devil on how extracurricular opportunities enriched her college experience

April 23, 2021

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

Rachel Caldwell comes from a family of Sun Devils: Both of her parents are alumni, and her mom works at the university. Now, it’s Caldwell’s turn to carry on the legacy — this spring, she will graduate from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with dual bachelor’s degrees in political science and women and gender studies with a minor in history and a disability studies certificate.  This spring, Rachel Caldwell will graduate from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with dual bachelor’s degrees in political science and women and gender studies with a minor in history and a disability studies certificate. Download Full Image

In her senior year of high school she realized she had a passion for political science, and her interest in the topic only continued to grow through courses she took and other extracurricular opportunities she participated in at ASU, including Sun Devil Mock Trial, ASU's collegiate mock trial team.

“I had so many amazing opportunities to travel across the West Coast and improve my public speaking skills. Constantly performing in front of others helped boost my confidence,” she said. “I improved my ability to understand criminal and civil trials by constructing arguments, memorizing the Federal Rules of Evidence and practicing courtroom procedures. Aside from the professional development experience this provided, the five or six road trips I took to competitions each year fostered strong friendships with my teammates.”

She also participated in Undergraduate Student Government on the Tempe campus for two years, first as the director of government affairs and then as a senator for Barrett, The Honors College and co-chair of the Committee on University Affairs. 

“All of these experiences helped me connect with my community at ASU and introduced me to some very good friends,” she said. “The other Undergraduate Student Government members really pushed me to go to more social events and convinced me to go to my first ASU football game where we stood in the front row and guarded the 'A' during homecoming.”

She said working as an intern and an assistant research analyst in the Arizona Senate through the Legislative Internship Program during her last couple of semesters also helped her gain the skills needed to apply for law school, with a career goal of becoming a constitutional lawyer.

Caldwell shared more about her experiences at ASU and her advice for current students.

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

Answer: Yes, I have anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which made completing school during the pandemic so much harder. However, I am very fortunate to have had access to mental health services because of my insurance. It is very important to clarify that I’m not “overcoming” anxiety and OCD, because that perpetuates negative stigma associated with disability, but rather working within and making it through an educational structure that was not designed to be accommodating for people’s mental health. I co-founded the Accessibility Coalition, and having that community of support has helped me in so many different ways, especially dealing with the social stigma of mental health conditions and learning new mechanisms to manage my anxiety. I am so happy to have worked with all of the passionate students in my classes and clubs to develop this coalition into what it is today. This experience really showed me that persistence and hard work can lead to positive outcomes and helped me appreciate my anxiety and OCD and talk about it openly with others who had similar experiences instead of trying to hide it out of shame. It also educated me about people who had very different experiences with disability.

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

A: Dr. Breanne Fahs taught me to embrace tensions and contradictions — the unclear and sometimes uncomfortable gray areas of life — and to think critically about my own life and freedom of expression, for which I am very grateful. 

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

A: Don’t be afraid to try new things — clubs, friendships, classes, etc. — because each leap of faith will bring so many amazing experiences and insights. If something doesn’t work out, don’t think that your second option or third option will be a worse experience. It will just be a different one and lead you to exactly where you need to be. Make sure to balance work and social time. Your experiences with your friends and peers are so important, and if I’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that you could lose those experiences at any moment. Don’t take them for granted.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I will continue working at the Arizona Senate as an assistant research analyst. I eventually hope to apply for law school and become a constitutional lawyer. 

Emily Balli

Multimedia specialist, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Grad pursues degree during Middle East deployment to prepare for role as police chief

April 23, 2021

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

Jose Pelaez was in the Middle East as a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve when he realized he wanted to be more involved in emergency management and homeland security planning. Jose Pelaez, spring 2021 outstanding graduate, Interdisciplinary Programs Jose Pelaez is a spring 2021 Outstanding Graduate in Interdisciplinary Programs from the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Photo courtesy Jose Pelaez Download Full Image

Pelaez had been serving as a security forces noncommissioned officer in the reserve. His bachelor’s degree is in criminal justice with experience as a civilian police sergeant.

“I realized that I needed to become a more well-rounded supervisor, not only in the criminal justice field, but also in emergency management in general. Both jobs required that I take charge during different types of emergencies and work along with outside agencies,” said Pelaez, the spring 2021 Outstanding Graduate of Interdisciplinary Programs in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

He enrolled at ASU to pursue a Master of Arts degree in emergency management and homeland security with a concentration in homeland security. Pelaez credits his graduate degree, which he is receiving this spring, as contributing to his appointment in February as chief of his local police department in St. Charles, Minnesota.

“Perhaps, my ‘aha’ moment came during my first deployment to the Middle East. I had the opportunity to attend several command-level meetings, where emergency response planning took place involving different response organizations,” he said.

Pelaez chose ASU after researching online graduate schools and receiving strong recommendations from fellow veterans he knew who had attended the university.

"I was looking for a university known for an excellent quality of education and was veteran-friendly. ASU met both criteria,” Pelaez said.

While at ASU, Pelaez learned the importance of building strong partnerships in the emergency management and homeland security fields.

“Information sharing and collaboration with outside stakeholders are crucial to prepare, respond and recover from disasters. Every stakeholder brings unique skills, knowledge and abilities needed to effectively manage a crisis,” he said.

His advice to students: “Utilize proper time management and proactively organize class assignments. I have learned that one can easily fall behind with course work while studying online; it takes a lot of self-discipline.”

Read on to learn more about Pelaez’s experience as an ASU student:

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

Answer: Perhaps the most important lesson I learned was from Dan Wilkins, who teaches CPP 575, U.S. cybersecurity and information security policy. Evolving technologies have brought us many benefits and conveniences; however, individuals and criminal organizations continue to exploit these technologies. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the limited international oversight on these new technologies to leverage their criminal activities. It is very concerning to see how much criminals can do through the dark web. Additionally, our critical infrastructure has become very much dependent on these new technologies, which makes them extremely vulnerable to foreign and domestic cyberattacks.

Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: The coffee shop, even during my deployments. Caffeine was definitely a must!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I was recently promoted to chief of police of my department. I’m probably going to spend a few years in this position, gaining some valuable experience. As soon as I’m eligible to retire or when I get close to it, I’ll probably start looking at state or federal jobs more related to homeland security, perhaps in the fields of anti-terrorism or critical infrastructure/physical security.

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

A: Build up homeless shelters and mental health crisis units.

Mark J. Scarp

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