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Tucson native aspires to advance social change and advocate for marginalized communities

Davina Mena, ASU Online graduate

This fall, Davina Mena will graduate with a Master of Social Work from ASU's Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

December 12, 2022
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

Tucson native Davina Mena is passionate about her Latino community and has dreamed of supporting and advocating for bodies of culture in a meaningful way for over a decade. 

Those dreams become reality this fall. Mena is graduating from ASU Online with a Master of Social Work from the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

The mother of three made the decision to resign from her job as a behavioral health technician at the beginning of the pandemic for her family. She quickly realized that time away from work meant more time to pursue an advanced degree. 

“My mother and my husband told me, ‘Two years will come and go, and you’re either going to have your graduate degree or not,’” Mena said. “They were right. Two years flew by, and now I am looking forward to entering the workforce again.”

Mena said the master’s program opened up opportunities that pushed her out of her comfort zone. Her studies and internships provided powerful reminders of why she chose this path and helped solidify the many ways she could empower her community through her social work. 

“My last internship for the MSW program was with the office of U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva as a congressional intern,” Mena said. “Mr. Grijalva and his congressional staff solidified for me what my entire academic journey has meant to me — my community. I learned to work with multiple agencies throughout government, specifically the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and saw firsthand the journey of immigration for hundreds of people.”

At the core of Mena’s social work ethos lies the value and importance of human relationships. 

“I do my best to bring my personal and professional identities together so I can offer those who I have the privilege to serve a genuine experience,” she said. “It is a beautiful moment to hear the testimony of someone’s life and feel connected to them.”

If Mena could offer any advice to future learners, it would be to lean into the nerve-racking and the unfamiliar, because those are the opportunities that offer the most growth. 

“The best way to learn is to do, and the Professional Experience courses towards the end of my program were great (for that),” she said. “It is always nerve-racking to start a new internship, especially in fields that I was not familiar with, but that’s where I learned the most. They allowed the space for teaching and learning to become graspable and real.”

Mena shares her experience pursuing her degree through ASU Online and advice for those who decide to pursue the same degree.

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

Answer: It was often an ongoing joke with my academic counselor that I was on the 10-year plan at community college because I knew that I wanted to help people, but could not figure out how I wanted to help people. After exploring nursing, the idea of becoming a lawyer, or a teacher, she casually suggested social work. After my first class, I was hooked. Concentrating on social work has allowed me the opportunity to participate in social change and assist individuals in various capacities. 

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

A: I wish I could say that there is one specific lesson learned during my time in the program, but nothing comes to mind, only a feeling. A wave of loud confidence that mutes the anxiety that tries to cripple me as I think about my future. You see, I didn’t just survive this program, I thrived in it. 

This entire experience of being an MSW student was hard. It tested me academically, physically, mentally and emotionally. So many nights without tucking my babies into bed because I had to finish an assignment, working with classmates and professors who have different personalities was sometimes difficult and yet I still turned in quality work, made a few good friends out in Phoenix and networked like my life depended on it. 

My lesson during my time in this program was that I can do hard things and do them gracefully. I always lacked this confidence as a social worker, like I was never doing the right thing the right way. And now, I feel confident in my skills. The truth is, social work is dealing with people and all the beautiful, difficult things that make us human — there’s never a right way to work with the human spirit. I am prepared now though. I know about a few theories and what they might look like mobilized. If there is something I don’t know, give me a week and I can write you a short paper on it, APA format of course. I have leveled up my skills as a social worker and feel ready to enter the professional world with developed services to offer future clients. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU Online?

A: ASU Online was flexible and accommodating for me and my family’s needs. When I started the program I had a 6-year-old, a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old, so flexibility was a big must. Being an online student allowed me to still be present for my growing family and have my professors readily available with a few clicks from my keyboard without having to leave home.

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

A: Katherine Crowley lectures SWG 610: Advanced Social Work Practice III, and taking her class was amazing! All her video lectures felt personal, and she was always available when I had questions. 

What I appreciated most about her class was that she made it part of our curriculum to participate in "Mind Over Mood" journal activities. These activities developed mindfulness and were a nice way to reflect on our academic journey. 

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

A: The social work program will test you in every way. It will challenge your worldview, your privilege and the systems in which we subconsciously function. It might even peel back some layers of self you might not have known of. If you can read between the lines of the assignments, which can be bothersome at times, and read the more than 20 suggested readings in your modules, I promise that there will be at least one golden nugget in each reading and assignment that will sharpen your skills. 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: Once I tucked my girls into bed, I loved sitting down at the breakfast bar with a cup of coffee, all the house lights turned off except for the stove light and the light from the TV being on ... I got some of my best studying done between 9:30 p.m. and 2 a.m. right in the kitchen. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I hope to devote my time, experience and education to empowering and supporting bodies of culture, specifically the Latine (a/o/x) community in matters of mental health and intergenerational healing.

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

A: You can’t ask a social worker to address ONE problem only! That’s torture for us.

I would make plans for the $40 million to promote well-being for all ages and individuals. Well-being can look like and be a lot of different things for people.

Written by Margot LaNoue for ASU Online.

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