Mom of 6 went from caring for the ‘screaming masses’ to getting a bachelor’s degree in 3 years

Social work grad earned diploma through ASU-Starbucks partnership

May 3, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

While Carmen Staicer began raising what became a total of six children, she created a blog. Portrait of ASU grad Carmen Staicer. Carmen Staicer. Photo courtesy Carmen Staicer Download Full Image

“My kids were really small. I had six kids in 11 years,” said the Virginia Beach, Virginia, resident, who in May 2022 will graduate from Arizona State University. “Two were special needs. It was perpetually loud all the time.”

So she named her blog, “Momtothescreamingmasses,” all one word.

“It was pretty well-received. I was interviewed by a couple of news stations,” said Staicer, 52. “People liked that I didn’t sugarcoat things. I’d say, 'Hey, this is what’s going on.'”

The attention landed her a longtime writing and editing job in social media that she could do from home while attending to her children. It helped acclimate her to pursuing an online degree, since she had spent so much time online for her job.

Today, Staicer has earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in community advocacy and social policy from the School of Social Work at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, with a minor in criminology and criminal justice.

Her returning to school after many years wasn’t much of an impediment to her success, she said, but sometimes, a lack of self confidence was.

“I wasn’t a good student when I was younger, and I had family members who were good students,” Staicer said. “There was the smart one, the pretty one and me. I was, ‘Get a 'C' and it’ll be OK.’”

Staicer’s decision to return to school shocked some of her family. “They said, ‘You? Going back to school?’ I was offended by that. It was really good for me that I could handle this and all the challenges that come with being an older student: a spouse, mortgage, children, grandchildren, job, other things that younger students may not have all at once.”

She said it has been a challenge physically, too. Staicer works at Starbucks, getting her degree through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, the coffee chain’s partnership with ASU for employees to earn their degree online with full tuition coverage.

“I’m at work at 4 a.m., then I take care of my 2-year-old granddaughter. Then I cook, and then I have study time,” Staicer said. “I’ve been known to fall asleep at inconvenient times.”

She fought off the recurring voice in her head telling her to quit, taking six classes a semester and continuing to enroll during summers. Staicer, who has children in college, is getting her bachelor’s degree in three years.

Read on to learn more about Staicer’s ASU journey:

Question: Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?

Answer: I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I've lived here since I was almost 5. I had thought a bit about moving when I graduated high school at 17, but wasn't able to afford it and didn't have any idea where I would go. I met my husband the week after I turned 20, and we were married 30 days later. His family moved here from Queens, New York, and so it was natural to stay. I have six kids, ages 18 to 30, one 2-year-old granddaughter and a grandson due at the end of April. I have two pit bulls and a huge love for the bully breeds. I’m deeply political and love to read just about anything, which has been helpful in school.

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

A: I have volunteered in the homeless community for eight years and want to work to help this community. I wasn't able to be taken seriously when I applied for jobs because I didn't have a degree, so I decided to go back to school – I had done a semester at community college right after graduation, but wasn't able to pay to continue, so I dropped out. About 18 months into my studies, I further narrowed my focus to crisis intervention – the George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery cases helped me see that it was a field that really needed more people. I added a criminal justice minor in order to make myself more marketable. I’m glad I did, because the classes were very, very interesting.

Q: What have been some particularly hard challenges you’ve had to face while pursuing your education?

A: My husband works six days a week, 14 to 16 hours a day. I am the only parent at home, and when I started back to school, I had four of my children living at home, one of whom worked nights as a nurse and slept days. My dogs are very high needs. I work at Starbucks 30 hours a week, it was a pandemic and I had a severe shoulder injury that required extensive surgery after two years of trying everything else. Trying to balance it all has been incredibly challenging. I set a goal for myself to make the Dean's List every semester. I wasn't known to be especially smart in school (I didn't apply myself, is what all my report cards said, haha), and Math 142 just about did me in.   

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I needed a job, and my girlfriend was a 15-year Starbucks partner. She encouraged me to apply for a job at Starbucks, and I saw that I would be able to earn a degree, so I took the chance. I’m glad I did! The online program has been very good for me, as I can study at weird times and anywhere I happen to be.

Q: What do you hope to do with your degree?

A: I really would like to work crisis intervention in my city or work with the homeless community as a case manager.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those students following behind you?

A: It feels like you will never, ever finish. Ever. When you look at your first Degree Audit Reporting System (graduation progress) report, it will seem overwhelming. Take your classes and don’t worry about how long it takes – you will be exactly the same age when you finish as you would be if you hadn’t started. It’s trite, but it’s true, and everyone tells you that for a reason. I finished in exactly three years, never dreaming that I would one day have a degree.

Q: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned at ASU – about yourself, about what you’re studying, anything – that came to you as a complete surprise?

A: When I was in school – way back in the day, I’m 52 now – I wasn’t a good student. Other family members were, and I just didn’t think I was smart. I learned that I am smart. I learned that I can do hard things on top of hard things, on top of other hard things, and make it through just fine. (I also learned that I absolutely loved forensic anthropology!)

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

A: Food distribution. We have so much food waste that it’s embarrassing. No one should be hungry. No one. I would expend my efforts to stop throwing away perfectly good food. I would plan and execute teams to pick up food and bring it to those who need it. I’d penalize companies who toss food, and I would work with farmers to add gleaning and distribution, compensating them for their efforts. I would work on making sure that all children, everywhere, have the food they need to grow up healthy.

Q: What is something you think would surprise people to learn about you?

A: Everyone is always surprised that I have six kids. I have rescue dogs. I’ve visited Cuba. My husband is 16 years older than I am, but I act much older. I have my black belt in Muay Thai (Thai boxing).

Q: What’s your life motto in one sentence?

A: Always use the bathroom before you leave, even if you don’t think you need to go. (In other words, be prepared in advance.)

Mark J. Scarp

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


2 ASU professors appointed as first-ever Navrotsky Professors of Materials Research

May 3, 2022

Last year, Alexandra Navrotsky, the director of Arizona State University’s Navrotsky Eyring Center for Materials of the Universe, made a $10 million gift bequest to the university to ensure the long-term growth of materials science. As part of these efforts, two ASU professors have recently been appointed the first-ever Navrotsky Professors of Materials Research.

Candace Chan, an associate professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, and Dan (Sang-Heon) Shim, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, were selected for the professorship based on their significant contributions in the field of materials research. Side-by-side portraits of ASU professors Candace Chan (left) and Dan (Sang-Heon) Shim. Candace Chan (left) and Dan (Sang-Heon) Shim. Download Full Image

“The Center for Materials of the Universe is at the forefront of materials science research, and home to some of the brightest minds in the field,” said Kenro Kusumi, dean of natural sciences in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “The Navrotsky Professorships will provide the opportunity for these outstanding faculty members to not only innovate in their research but also grow in their careers. As the first two to receive this prestigious appointment, I am eager to see what exciting new discoveries professors Chan and Shim make in the next two years.”

Through the Navrotsky Professorship of Materials Research, Chan and Shim will serve to build the field of solid state science and materials research at ASU. The funding they receive will also enable them to step into a leadership role, while encouraging materials research innovation and collaborations that bridge the Department of Physics, the School of Molecular Sciences, the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy.

“It is thrilling to honor such wonderful colleagues,” Navrotsky said.

During the two-year term, they will pursue and promote new ideas, discoveries and technologies, advocate for and seek new funding opportunities and provide outreach to expand research in the broad field of materials.

“Dr. Navrotsky’s research has left an indelible mark on the field of materials science, and we are extremely grateful for her generosity to ensure the future of the discipline,” said Lenore Dai, director of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “We are excited for the positive impacts this professorship will continue to have at ASU and in the scientific community at large through stimulating research collaborations, continuous innovation and opportunities for workforce development.”

“I congratulate professors Chan and Shim on their selection as the inaugural awardees for the Navrotsky Professorships,” said Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration. “These professorships will provide these faculty the ability to widen the aperture for the kinds of exploratory research projects that are not easily funded by federal agencies, but have the potential for being transformational for materials research.”

The Navrotsky Eyring Center for Materials of the Universe unites cosmology, astrophysics, astronomy, planetary science and exploration, and mineralogy and petrology with materials science and engineering, chemistry, physics and biology to address grand questions of the complex chemistries and evolution of planets. The center strives to attract and inspire scientists across all science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields to explore alien and extreme conditions and environments with the expectation of discovering new, useful materials and understanding the formation and evolution of planets.

“The idea of the Center for Materials of the Universe by Professor Navrotsky is revolutionary in that we can understand distant planets outside of our solar system by studying chemistry under a wide range of pressure, temperature and composition,” Shim said. “I have been extremely lucky to participate in the exciting intellectual journey in the Center for Materials of the Universe from the beginning. The Navrotsky professorship will allow me to pursue some of the new research directions identified from the first few years of the Materials of the Universe initiative.”

“I am truly honored to receive this appointment. Professor Navrotsky has touched all areas of materials research with her innovative methods for understanding the fundamental thermodynamic properties of materials. Indeed, it seems like she has studied all the materials that exist in the universe at one point or another,” Chan said. “I look forward to working with her and the other members of the Center for Materials of the Universe on the challenges that face us as we strive toward engineering materials solutions for decarbonization, sustainable and clean energy, and critical materials needed for technologically important applications.”

Emily Balli

Manager of marketing and communications, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences