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Through volunteering, dual grad finds career path in Latino, reproductive health advocacy

Carla Naranjo sits near Old Main wearing her graduation stoles and cords

Carla Naranjo graduates this spring from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with dual degrees in political science and justice studies, as well as a minor in Spanish.

April 30, 2021

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

Carla Naranjo came to Arizona State University knowing she had two passions: advocating for the Latino community and reproductive freedom. What she didn’t know was how those passions could translate into a career.

“I've always cared about advocating for the Latinx community since I am a daughter of immigrants. And as a woman, I always knew that I cared about sexual health, wellness and reproductive freedom,” Naranjo said. "I realized that if I cared about reproductive rights, I should volunteer at Planned Parenthood. It was there that I learned that there was a national program that specifically does work on Latinx engagement.”

Naranjo said volunteering with different organizations helped shape her experiences, as well as get an idea for potential job opportunities that exist now, and ones that might be created in the future.

As a student in Barrett, The Honors College at ASU, Naranjo’s honors thesis measured the impact of cultural perceptions on contraceptive use for Mexican American women.

“Essentially, my research question was: Do Mexican cultural perceptions, either positive or negative, impact a young woman's decision to seek out and use birth control? It brought in a lot of points that I was personally interested in. I care about expanding access to healthcare in the Latinx community so I wanted to look at it more through a reproductive and sexual health lens, to address how we can lower existing sexual health risks and racial health inequities,” she said.

This spring, Naranjo is graduating from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with dual degrees in political science and justice studies, as well as a minor in Spanish. She shared more about her ASU experience and plans for the future.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I grew up in the Phoenix area so I always knew that it was an option for me. I'm a first-generation Mexican American, and when it came time to look at schools, ASU offered me the greatest financial aid package. So that's really what attracted me to ASU initially. Looking back on it, even if it weren't for the financial aid, I feel like I would've chosen ASU regardless because it is a massive community with so many resources. I loved my time at ASU.

Q: Did you have an “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study your majors?

A: I think my “aha” moment was in 2016 and 2017, when I realized just how political our lives are. In our day-to-day, we're always influenced by politics and policies that are passed at every level of government. I wanted to learn more about the current structures that exist, but most importantly, how we can improve upon them. Especially for me, I identify as a Latinx person, I was really drawn to immigrant and Latinx advocacy. … I want to have a career in public service doing political advocacy, specifically progressive political advocacy. That's what drew me to my majors is that I cared a lot about bringing folks who have been marginalized or excluded from the political process and trying to shift the current political and power dynamics that exist.

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

A: I faced both financial barriers and the initial learning curve of learning things at a college level. Throughout college, I always worked at least two or three part-time jobs, whether as a student worker or somewhere else to stay in school. I think what was hard – especially in a male and white predominantly field like political science, which is my first degree – is that a lot of the times it felt like the work quality and caliber was hard to compete with, especially while balancing work. I was able to overcome them with scholarships and financial aid and through having support networks on campus within clubs and extracurriculars. I think that definitely kept me focused and gave me that community that I needed when academics were pretty difficult.

Q: Did you receive any scholarships or financial support while at ASU? If yes, how did those impact your experience?

A: I was a Spirit of Service Scholar through the Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service; I received a director scholarship from the School of Politics and Global Studies; and also received a research scholarship from the School of Social Transformation. Scholarships were extremely invaluable to me because I was able to focus on my studies and really apply myself to school in ways that I probably would not have been able to otherwise.

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

A: I was involved in a few organizations: I was in the marching band, I was in student government, I was a tour guide and I was a Devils’ Advocate. I think the most impactful one for me was Planned Parenthood Generation Action at ASU, which is the Planned Parenthood affiliate club on campus. I was president of the organization and ended up learning a lot about real grassroots organizing and advocacy on campus. I think that proved to be really beneficial for me as well at giving me a community of folks who have had similar experiences.

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

A: My thesis committee actually taught me the most valuable lessons while I was at ASU. My thesis director, Dr. Angela Gonzales, and my second committee member, Dr. Irasema Coronado, both gave me very invaluable advice on how to navigate academic and professional spaces as a Latina, as a person from a marginalized ethnic and gender background. I learned a lot about how to combat imposter syndrome and how to develop my research skills within my honors thesis. The biggest thing I learned from them was that there is a community and there is support for students. There are support networks in place at ASU, far beyond while you're in college, but also as an alumnus.

Q: What message or advice would you share for future first-year students?

A: I was a community assistant at ASU for residential communities and I think the most important thing that I would share for first-year students is to take care of yourself — take care of your mental health, and your physical and emotional wellbeing. The first year is pretty crucial for establishing healthy habits, like work-life balance, and it really reflects in your academic performance and in your personal life. Set those really good habits early on.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am fortunately graduating summa cum laude with the Moeur Award, which is very exciting, and I actually started working full time at Planned Parenthood Arizona in January as a political organizer, with an emphasis on youth and Latinx engagement. In this role, I am able to continue empowering communities to fight for reproductive freedom and social justice. It's pretty much exactly where I want to be.

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