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Tragedy did not deter outstanding grad from completing her degree

'I knew he would say to continue,' said student about her husband; she returned to earn master's degree 22 years after receiving bachelor’s


Sandra Perez, Interdisciplinary Programs, spring 2022m Watts College, Outstanding Graduate. Photo courtesy Sandra Perez

Sandra Perez, Interdisciplinary Programs, spring 2022 Watts College Outstanding Graduate, with her late husband, Moises. Photo courtesy Sandra Perez

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April 29, 2022

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

Just as Sandra Perez started her studies toward a master’s degree in program evaluation and data analytics, her husband, Moises, became ill. He passed away of non-COVID-related causes a short time later, in November 2020.

“He was a winner. Everything on his mind he was able to do. He supported my going back to school 200%,” said Perez, the spring 2022 Outstanding Graduate in Interdisciplinary Programs at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, who enrolled 22 years after earning her bachelor’s degree in computer science.

“He had wanted to eventually go back as well. He said, ‘You do it first.’”

But her husband’s death made it difficult for Perez to concentrate on her studies. He died when she was a few assignments into her second class.

“I didn’t want to go back to school. But I began thinking about him and what he would do, and I knew he would say to continue,” she said.

It wasn’t easy. English became Perez’s second language at age 25. But she pressed on.

“To be sincere, the program was a lifesaver for me. The structure gave me short-term goals. Healing is one day at a time, sometimes a moment at a time. I took baby steps,” she said. “I didn’t want to wait any longer.”

Perez said many immigrants who hesitate about returning to school haven’t done it because they do not feel confident enough about the language.

“I would say to them, life is not perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect situation. It is a more mental barrier than a real one,” said Perez, who added she should have returned to school 20 years ago, but didn’t.

“I would like to share my experience to help people decide to go to school, because you’ll never have a perfect situation,” she said. “After all the tears, the suffering, the life-changing events, time flew by, and I finally achieved the dream I had longed for for many years. I look back, and I think my dear husband would be proud of what I have done.”

Read more to learn about Perez’s ASU journey:

Question: What was your "aha" moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I have been working with nonprofit organizations all my life. I have seen good programs disappear or be reduced because their grants were over. Some of these programs could have had their funding renewed, but they did not collect enough information to prove the program was working. That was my "aha" moment. I thought: "Is there a way to help these organizations to collect and use data and get more funding?"

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

A: I learned at ASU that it is never too late to go back to school, or to start school. I have a gap of 22 years since I received my bachelor’s degree, and for many years I thought it would be impossible for me to go back to school.

I always thought that education is a valuable jewel that no one can take away from you. ASU helped me to remember that. When you acquire the knowledge, you are investing in yourself. It is not easy, but it is worth it. ASU gave me confidence, and I know that I can do anything I set my mind to with effort and dedication.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU is an amazing institution. In my mind, there was no other school. ASU has been ranked No. 1 in innovation for many years. ASU offers hundreds of degrees in person and online. For full-time workers, online is a great option.

I think program evaluation and data analytics is a unique program. I always thought about it as a hybrid program. I learned tools to measure the effectiveness of a program using data and statistical formulas. With my STEM education background and my nonprofit employment experience, this program was what I was looking for.

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

Sandra Perez, Interdisciplinary Programs, spring 2022, Watts College, Outstanding Graduate. Photo courtesy Sandra Perez

Sandra Perez. Photo courtesy Sandra Perez

A: Sometimes you feel a little isolated while being an online student. However, all my teachers were excellent, professional and always willing to help out. Professors Jamison Crawford, Malcolm GogginAnthony HowellRobert KramerDavid Schlinkert, David Selby and Courtney Stowers — I want to thank each one of them, as they all helped me to learn new skills. An important lesson was that online education is as good as education in person. If you have questions, just ask. ASU professors will help answer questions and clarify doubts.

A special thank you to Jesse Lecy. He is the director of my degree program. Dr. Lecy was always there to help us. He oversees the core classes and assists us when we have questions. Thank you so much for all your help!

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

A: Just set your mind to think about short-term goals — one assignment at a time. A week at a time. If you see all the courses you need to complete, it will be very overwhelming. Do not use your energy thinking about all the years you will be spending at school.

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

A: Being an online student and working from home because of the pandemic makes you sit for a long time. There is a spot at home next to a window where I sat when I read. It helped me focus. I also played instrumental music when there was noise around.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I would like to keep working with nonprofit organizations to write grants. With the tools I learned at ASU, I can help at different levels.

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

A: This is a very difficult question. I have worked with at-risk adolescents and teenagers with challenging behaviors. That money would create programs for this population to help them learn new skills, create memorable experiences and help them to feel confident and safe. Strong teenagers create stronger communities. This could create a social change. After all, children are our future.    

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