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Outstanding Graduate Award recipient follows passion for psychology

This spring, Karla Caldera will graduate from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with a master’s degree in psychology and will be recognized with the Outstanding Graduate Award.

April 29, 2022

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

First-generation student Karla Caldera was initially drawn to the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University for the psychology program and the beauty of the West campus.

“The New College had a master's program in psychology geared specifically towards research instead of clinical work and that was exactly what I was looking for. Not only that, but the campus itself is beautiful and all of the people that I met here were really welcoming,” Caldera said. “I remember hearing about the West campus and I kind of had this idea of it just being off in the middle of nowhere. But when I came here for the first time, I realized it was small in a good way.”

As an undergraduate student studying counseling and applied psychological science, Caldera participated in a Global Intensive Experience where she visited Rome, Italy, and worked at nongovernmental organizations to assist asylum seekers. 

During her time at ASU, she also assisted on a number of research projects focusing on Hispanic mental health. She had the opportunity to research topics ranging from intersectional psychological distress and mixed-documentation status siblings to coping strategies among undocumented graduate students and self-perceptions of Latino immigrants. She recently won first place in a poster competition by the Division of International Psychology of the American Psychological Association at the Western Psychological Association Convention for her presentation on the role of self-perception in Lation immigrants and fear of law enforcement practices.

Although she encountered challenges as a first-gen student at times, Caldera said she was able to persevere with the help of her adviser, her professors and her family.

This spring, she will graduate from the New College with a master’s degree in psychology and will be recognized with the Outstanding Graduate Award. Here, she shares more about her experiences at ASU and what’s next for her.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study psychology?

Answer: As an undergraduate I was introduced to research by some of my professors. As soon as I started working on research, whether it was qualitative or quantitative, I just kept wanting to work on research and that was when I realized I wanted to keep doing this forever.

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

A: I think something that surprised me here at New College was just the really warm, welcoming, collaborative environment that the faculty curated for the students, as well as the students willing to help each other out. That was kind of a shock to me, because before that I didn't know much about the research world and I always imagined it as being very competitive and cold and isolating. But being here at New College showed me that there are a lot of opportunities to work close with other people and learn from them. New College has helped me by really allowing me to see that it is possible to make a difference in the world. Even in the smallest ways — you can always make a difference.

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

A: The professor that taught me the most is my adviser, and also my past professor, Kristin Mickelson. She really guided me in terms of research and adjusting to the program. She taught me a lot about doing whatever research that interests me or that drives me, even if it's something I haven't done before. She's encouraged me to take risks and has always been there to guide me when I was unsure of what to do next.

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

A: I would tell them to go with what they feel is most important to them. In terms of career prospects, I remember going through two different majors in my undergrad and the first one felt like I wasn't very committed to it. … Once I fell into psychology and actually followed my true passion, it felt like everything fell into place and it guided me here to where I am today. It's OK to change your mind. You may think something is the best option, but there are other pathways that may appear and it's OK to follow those as well.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm going to pursue a PhD at Ohio State University and keep doing research. 

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in 10 years?

A: In 10 years I hope to become an established psychologist. By that, I mean doing more research. I hope that I can, in some way, make a difference in the world.

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