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Grad's late father taught him the importance of helping others, listening

'That inspired me into the helping professions'


Portrait of Aviel Waxman, fall 2022 outstanding graduate of Barrett, The Honors College and Watts College.

Aviel Waxman, fall 2022 Outstanding Graduate, Honors, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Photo courtesy Aviel Waxman

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November 29, 2022

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

When Aviel Waxman’s father had multiple sclerosis, Waxman helped care for him until his father's death four years ago. Being there for his father helped the fall 2022 graduate realize the importance of helping others.

“I knew I wanted to help people, seeing him live with multiple sclerosis through his later years,” said Waxman, a Glendale, Arizona, resident who is the Outstanding Graduate from the School of Social Work and Barrett, The Honors College. “I was learning how to support people.”

Waxman’s father also was a very good listener, a trait his son developed.

“Dad was a huge proponent of listening to others, and people’s stories are important. Many people would come to the house in Flagstaff and talk with him,” Waxman said. His father, no matter where he was, would start conversations with strangers and learn about their life stories. “That inspired me into the helping professions.”

Waxman grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona, then moved to the Phoenix area in 2011 after flooding from the 2010 Schultz Fire. While in high school, Waxman focused his senior community service project on domestic and sexual violence, which led him to being hired at a Peoria-based nonprofit dedicated to ending this type of behavior. He worked there until his sophomore year at ASU.

“In high school, and during my first year at ASU, I worked for a nonprofit organization called BLOOM365, where most of my coworkers either had or were working on getting their social work degrees. That caused my interest to learn more about the profession and how I could use my degree to help others,” Waxman said. “However, my Introduction to Social Work class really showed me what I could do and helped to confirm that the social work field is something that I would like to work in.”

Waxman plans to pursue a Master of Social Work with a focus on policy, administration and community practice.

“I plan to work with Watts College at the West campus to help build unique experiences for prospective students looking into public service,” Waxman said. “After I graduate, my goal is to work within the community development sphere to help empower others and create safe, equitable and healthy communities.”

Read on to learn more about Waxman’s ASU journey.

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

Answer: The most surprising thing is how much bigger systems impact the way that we live. While we can help to solve a problem or an issue where it is at, nothing much can really change without challenging or changing the systems involved. A lot of what social work does, and what many people think of, is micro-practice, one-on-one, where we are able to be effective. I’m planning on entering the area of policy, administration and community practice, or PAC, as I want to focus on community development, although I’m not sure exactly where.

Putting that social work degree to work with someone one-on-one – bonding – is important, but I also want to create overall change in the systems that sometimes makes it harder for people.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I was honestly scared of choosing ASU at first. It’s a large school and I was afraid of being lost within the tens of thousands of students who attend. However, I learned that there were multiple campuses and that they all had their different feels. I ended up falling in love with the West campus due to its size, but also its overall feel of an oasis in the desert.

I'm so glad that I chose ASU and Barrett, The Honors College at the West campus because I definitely wouldn't be the person I am today without the support of my peers, the faculty and the staff I have met at ASU. There are so many opportunities ASU offers to truly discover who you want to be and where you want to go. Barrett has even furthered the opportunities I have been able to take advantage of at ASU. 

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

A: Instructor Linda Esquivel, I believe, taught me the most important lessons throughout my time here at ASU. I took her class, Diversity and Oppression in a Social Work Context, and she encouraged us to take a look internally and reflect on the ways in which we view the world around us. However, I think the most impactful thing that I learned from her was that we are not alone in what we are learning and what we are doing. There are people who are alongside us, both in our education and our field, who are there to support us and to promote healthy development of who we are. We should ask questions of both how we think and how that impacts the way we provide support and services to others.

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

A: Use the time to find out what you're truly passionate about. It will look different for everyone, but it can include getting engaged on campus with student life, asking questions, attending lectures and talks, or finding a group of people you feel comfortable around.

At the same time, if you can, I also encourage you to help others feel seen and appreciated on campus. Don’t feel afraid to say hello or start up a small conversation with someone new or someone you recognize.   

Q: What was your favorite spot to study, meet friends or to just think about life?

A: I love the West campus in general and I think anywhere on campus is a great place to study, relax or chill out with friends. One of my go-to spots to study or to just think is the breezeway of the third floor of the Sands Classroom Building. I love the spot because you can watch the sunset fall across the West Valley. Personally though, since day one, the Walt Whitman space within the Barrett West Suite has been my home away from home.

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

A: I would love to see more resources available for people to create and sustain healthy communities. Fostering opportunities for individuals to design a healthy, safe and equitable community is something I would love to do. The places we call home are the places in which we live, play, work and develop.

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