Outstanding Undergraduate Award recipient inspired to address social justice issues

May 6, 2022

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

As the first in his family to earn a college degree, it wasn’t always easy for Arizona State University student Alexis Rodriguez to navigate his way through higher education. But as his time as an undergraduate comes to a close this spring and graduation is on the horizon, Rodriguez hopes to pave the way for other first-generation students like himself while creating change in his community. ASU grad Alexis Rodriguez standing in front of the U.S. Capitol Building wearing graduation regalia. This spring, Alexis Rodriguez will graduate from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in social justice and human rights, with a minor in Spanish and a certificate in translation. Download Full Image

During his time at ASU, Rodriguez studied social justice and human rights at the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. He knew he wanted to become a catalyst for change after he volunteered at a local nonprofit where he learned more about the challenges the Latino community faces.

“I did nonprofit work talking to voters, so I was really exposed to all the different social issues that existed within my community, specifically among Latinos, but also in my geographic and regional area,” Rodriguez said. “Through those conversations and that work, I realized that I wanted to contribute to addressing social issues.”

At ASU, Rodriguez was able to pursue his passions in a number of ways. During the spring 2022 semester, he served as an advocacy intern at the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in Washington, D.C., through ASU’s partnership with The Washington Center. In this role, he connected with social scientists and psychologists on their research and explored the importance of providing evidence-based results to influence policy and communicate results to lawmakers.

He also participated in research through the New College Undergraduate Inquiry and Research Experiences (NCUIRE) program.

This spring, Rodriguez will graduate from New College with a bachelor’s degree in social justice and human rights, with a minor in Spanish and a certificate in translation. He will be recognized with the Outstanding Undergraduate Award. Here, he shares more about his experiences at ASU and what’s next for him.

Question: Why did you choose New College?

Answer: I chose New College because it had the degree that I felt was the best fit for me. At the New College I also really liked how there was more of a community aspect to it because I was really looking for that.

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

A: One of the things that I've been really just astonished by is the use of academia and advocacy. I’ve learned about the different ways to address social issues through academic research, including through the NCUIRE program, where I was able to use research to address gender-based violence, femicide in Mexico and how to combat human and sex trafficking. Back in the spring of 2020, I worked with a professor to interview many nonprofit organizations who worked with victims of sex trafficking, and we were able to identify common themes and learn more about the services they provide and what resources lack within the nonprofits to help survivors. 

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

A: I was first introduced to conducting research by Professor Heather Smith-Cannoy. It was with her that I really got that firsthand experience and started with the NCUIRE project. She really taught me from start to finish everything about a research project — from the research question to ultimately publishing that work and being able to collaborate with other authors to produce effective work.

Q: Did you encounter any challenges? If so, how have you overcome them?

A: The financial obstacles one is faced with when obtaining higher education are definitely huge challenges to overcome. One of the ways that I overcame that was by applying to scholarships, whether it be visiting ASU’s Office of National Scholarships or Financial Aid. Whenever I received a notification that I did receive a scholarship, it really just reinforced that confidence in myself to keep going and continuing my education. Being first-generation and knowing that such generosity exists from complete strangers — it's extremely impactful for me and my family because it lets me know that there's people out there believing in me. 

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

A: A piece of advice I would give to a future Sun Devil or even a first-generation student is to take the time to find your community. Here at ASU, there are so many people, so you're bound to find a nice social group of people to help you out and to overcome any challenges that you'll face throughout your college years. There are a lot of opportunities for students to take advantage of and to find that community, whether it be through internships, research experiences or extracurriculars like clubs or sports.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I hope to take all the skills and knowledge that I gained here at ASU and apply them to make significant change within my own community. I hope to continue doing research and also using that research to find ways to influence evidence-based policies while relating that research to the general public and finding different ways to do that. 

Emily Balli

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

ASU students learn how pressure cookers can bring together nutritious food, culture

May 6, 2022

Students learned how to prepare healthy cultural cuisine using pressure cookers at a recent event series hosted by the College of Health Solutions and Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University’s Downtown Phoenix and West campuses.

Chef Kenneth Moody, an instructional retail kitchen coordinator at the College of Health Solutions, demonstrated how to quickly and easily prepare chicken tortilla soup and refried beans with bacon using a pressure cooker. He explained the nutritional benefits of the ingredients and the cultural relevance of each dish. Chef Kenneth Moody demonstrates chopping ingredients for use in a pressure cooker. Chef Kenneth Moody demonstrates cooking nutritious, culturally significant recipes using a pressure cooker as students look on. Download Full Image

Students who attended Food and Culture Under Pressure were able to receive a free pressure cooker thanks to a donation from the American Cancer Society. The events promoted healthy lifestyles and behaviors that can help prevent disease, including cancer.

Pressure cookers can be a useful tool when it comes to meal prepping or making simple meals for students on the go. And when it comes to balancing student life and making healthy meals on a budget, Mercedes Molina, a health solutions senior majoring in dietetics, really liked the idea of using a pressure cooker to simplify the process.

“Because just cooking, in general, it’s really hard to find time, but then trying to make a healthy meal is even harder because sometimes you’re just looking for quick little things,” Molina said. “So if you can make it healthy and quick it’s better.”

Students at the event enjoyed learning how to be more health-conscious using a pressure cooker, and those with little cooking experience found the recipes easy to follow.

“These recipes are not hard to do, and I don’t really have a lot of experience cooking, so for me they seem manageable,” said Kalei Castaneda, a sophomore health solutions student majoring in clinical exercise science with a minor in nutrition and healthy living.

Students also learned basic skills on how to prepare fresh ingredients, including how to properly hold a knife and chop ingredients. 

“I like when Chef Moody teaches those basic skills,” said Maureen McCoy, a senior lecturer at the College of Health Solutions. “This is such a nice opportunity to do that because that's what so many students are lacking, like how to even cut things. All those things are so useful. … If you know what to do with the ingredient that costs a dollar and can make yourself food that lasts a week, I mean, that solves half the battle.”

Pressure cookers can be used and adapted to a variety of settings and situations, said Mercedes Amador, director of student engagement and retention at the College of Health Solutions and an organizer of the event.

“This appliance can be helpful for larger families, but also can be used for a single individual who’s trying to make it through commuting, coming to campus and still being well-fed,” Amador said.

Amador also recognized the cultural value and potential for improving health outcomes of students from marginalized communities and intergenerational homes with the food and culture events. 

“Culture and nutrition aren’t separate,” Amador said. “You can have both. You can have active conversations about improving health outcomes with family members through avenues like food, or incorporate what you’re learning within the academic setting and translate that at home.”

After students are given their new pressure cookers, McCoy said she wants to see students expand their culinary horizons and try new recipes.

“I hope that they try something new and it's a way to make flavorful food and expand their food boundaries on a budget because this is an expensive tool,” McCoy said. “So to be able to try out some really low-cost recipes, I just hope that they start experimenting and have fun.”

Story by Mindy Lok, digital content producer, College of Health Solutions