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

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. 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. Download Full Image

“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.

Kirsten Kraklio

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


Longtime Red Cross volunteer earns degree with help of Starbucks College Achievement Plan

April 30, 2021

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

The goal to finish college seemed less attainable every year Monty Burich waited to go back. Whether it was family, work or life, something always kept him from finishing his degree. Then, while working at Starbucks, he learned about the Starbucks College Achievement Plan and the company’s partnership with Arizona State University and his hope was renewed. “How many times do you get a second chance like this?” Starbucks partner and 2021 Graduate Monty Burich ASU Online student and Starbucks partner Monty Burich. Download Full Image

As a longtime volunteer for the American Red Cross, Burich has alway had a passion for helping people. This led him to ASU’s online public service and public policy degree program with a focus on homeland security. This particular field will go hand-in-hand with his volunteer work as he helps provide guidance on preparedness and recovery.

“We know the world is changing, we have to be ready to deal with it when it does. Good emergency managers are part of the way that we're going to do that,” he said.

While completing his degree, Burich utilized a variety of ASU Online resources, especially the 24-hour tutoring.

“When I’d be up late trying to work through a problem, it was really helpful to be able to put a problem up on a virtual board and work through it with someone. It’s an amazing feature.”

He also regularly talked with his success coach when he needed someone to cheer him on. While at work, his Starbucks manager would help with his schedule if he needed to study or work on a project. If Burich was called away to serve for the Red Cross, his professors would fully support his trips.

“The American Red Cross responds to home fires every 16–20 hours, so when I was on duty, flexibility was critical to balancing the needs of family, school, work and most of all, the community,” Burich said.

When not working full time, volunteering for the American Red Cross or concentrating on his studies, Burich loves spending time with his wife and cooking for his family. Living in the Pacific Northwest, he loves to get out in nature. He makes an annual family hiking trip to Mount St. Helens and tries to visit the other beautiful mountain ranges. In addition to hiking, Burich visits a variety of local eateries and enjoys traveling the world through different flavor profiles. 

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

Answer: I think the fact that online schooling is doable was an eye opening experience for me because coming from traditional schooling where you're in the classroom, online in my mind was a little treacherous. What would it be like interacting with other classmates and the professors? It was the unknown that was challenging. But once I got into it and started to see how things progressed and the amount of support you have available, it was better for me.

The amount of support that we have through tutoring, through discussions with professors or reaching out to one of your classmates, it ended up easier than if I did classes in a traditional school setting. Coming out of high school and doing this would have been very, very difficult. But after being out of school for 20-plus years, I had a chance to develop some of that discipline and I think that's what made it possible. Coming out of high school and jumping in right away without a chance to hone those skills, well I don't think it would have worked quite the same way. 

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

A: Professor George A. Pettit when I was in his course about pandemics. It was amazing to study a topic that was unfolding in front of our eyes in real time. So, even though we had a curriculum written and we had things we were expected to learn, that class was very much taught as it was happening around us. Since the professor was a former city manager, he had some great experiences to share with us. We had real-time connections with city managers and emergency personnel, fire chiefs and police chiefs. Being able to have those open discussions were really informative. It definitely renewed my focus and energy in emergency management. Professor Pettit showed us the real world effects of the pandemic and interpreted it in a way that we could learn from. Overall, he was really inspiring and truly renewed all my focus on why a future in emergency management was the place to be. 

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

A: For an existing student who's maybe halfway through or just starting out and maybe it seems a little bit daunting, don't keep it a secret. Ask for help, reach out to your classmates, have those challenging conversations with your classmates, break the ice, don't feel like you're alone. There's so many options out there for you to reach out for some support or help. And don't forget about your family! They may be quiet sometimes but just know that they're supporting you behind the scenes and sometimes just talking about it makes all the difference. 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I usually sit in the kitchen right next to the window so that I have a chance to peer out and look into the trees and watch the birds flying around. It takes my mind away for a few minutes when I'm deep thinking about a particular topic. It just seems to be the best place for me. I've tried going to a Starbucks store and sitting down but there's too many distractions. Sitting at home here in my kitchen while my wife works around the house, plays her piano, while the animals are relaxing outside, like our four pet tortoises, is so relaxing.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: The plan right now is to continue to focus on where I'm at with Starbucks. My ultimate goal is to join FEMA at some point down the road. I’m keeping my options open as there seems to be jobs in my field popping up regularly and nature continues to show us how unprepared we really are.

Q: What is your favorite thing about being a Sun Devil?

A: My mom and her boyfriend live in Tucson, Arizona. When I go down to visit them, I actually get to stop in Tempe and see the school and get to see where I graduated from. Plus, you can't ask for a cooler mascot than a Sun Devil, right? Being able to visit and see the campus, which is such a beautiful place to behold, is very exciting. To be able to also show my kids that I did it and they can too is wonderful. 

Q: Tell us about your best Sun Devil moment or experience.

A: Meeting the alumni where I live in Seattle. It’s rewarding to meet some of the people that have graduated and to hear their experiences. It felt like being back in high school. Again with all your old buddies.

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

A: We need to work on our growing homeless population. It’s daunting to see how much it has increased. Resources need to be available for homeless families. Investing the money into getting affordable housing established and starting to brainstorm temporary solutions for people making transitions for one part of their life to the next is vital. There are some amazing people in these communities that just need a leg up to get back on their feet. 

Written by Tuesday Mahrle, earned media specialist for EdPlus at Arizona State University.