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Hundreds of new Watts College alums celebrate during spring ceremony at arena

916 graduates honored, including 310 online

Graduates holding their degrees and wearing graduation regalia laughing.

Two graduates share a hearty laugh after receiving congratulations at the spring 2024 convocation of Arizona State University's Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Photo by Sarah Brown/ASU

May 09, 2024

Nearly 1,000 new graduates celebrated their first full day as Arizona State University alumni as the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions honored them at its spring 2024 convocation.

Representatives of the Watts College leadership, faculty and staff, along with families and friends, gathered May 7 at an afternoon ceremony at ASU’s Desert Financial Arena in Tempe to celebrate the hard work of 916 graduates from the college’s four schools.

An estimated 700 graduates participated in the ceremony.

According to university figures, the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice (SCCJ) presented the most spring 2024 graduates, 340, followed by the School of Social Work (SSW) with 328, the School of Public Affairs (SPA) with 154 and the School of Community Resources and Development (SCRD) with 92.

The college’s graduates who studied fully online totaled 310 during the spring, while 606 graduates earned their diplomas by studying through campus immersion, or in-person programs.

ASU officially conferred 11 doctoral degrees to Watts College graduates this week, four each from SCRD and SCCJ, two from SSW and one from SPA, according to university figures. ASU conferred 366 master’s degrees and 539 bachelor’s degrees upon Watts College graduates, who, like the new PhDs, formally received their degrees at university commencement ceremonies held a day prior in Tempe.

The Watts College’s international collaboration with the Ministry of Education in China, the Hainan University-Arizona State University International Tourism College (HAITC) at Hainan University in southern China, will have 264 graduates earning bachelor’s degrees. Watts College Dean and President’s Professor Cynthia Lietz and HAITC Director Kelly Bricker will travel to Hainan, China, to participate in the May 24 HAITC ceremony that will honor 196 graduates from the School of Community Resources and Development and 68 from the School of Public Affairs.

Charter Professor, outstanding graduates lead procession

Tuesday’s convocation began with a procession of Watts College faculty, led by college marshal Stacey Gandy, a social work clinical assistant professor. Gandy was chosen for the role in recognition of her 2023 appointment as the college’s inaugural ASU Charter Professor.

The college’s four spring outstanding graduates also entered at the head of the procession as student marshals. By carrying a colorful gonfalon behind Gandy, each represented their schools: Rory Wilson for the School of Public Affairs, Yoselin Flor-Aguilar for the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Meranden Numkena for the School of Community Resources and Development, and Barnard “Bennie” Mthembu for the School of Social Work.

Associate Dean Chandra Crudup later introduced the outstanding graduates with individual accounts of their academic journeys.

In addition to Crudup, other members of the college’s executive leadership team formed the core of the platform party: Lietz, Senior Associate Dean Joanna Lucio, associate deans Megha Budruk and William Terrill and Watts College Chief Operating Officer Janet Mullen.

Joining the deans were the directors of the Watts College’s four schools: the School of Community Resources and Development's Christine Buzinde, the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice's Beth Huebner, the School of Social Work's Elizabeth Lightfoot and the School of Public Affairs' Shannon Portillo.

Lietz said that rather than being discouraged by the many challenges facing a complex world, the Watts College graduates are stepping forward to address issues with solutions.

‘Your success matters to us’

“Whether you aspire to elected office, work in local government or will serve as a first responder during natural disasters; whether you will keep our neighborhoods safe, preserve our parks, advocate for social justice or meet the needs of vulnerable populations; your mission is complex, important and impactful,” Lietz said. “Your success matters to us, because the ability to build more vibrant, healthy, equitable and sustainable communities is now in your hands.”

Lietz complimented the graduates’ guests, family and friends for their important roles in each student’s achievements, pointing out that no degree is realized only through the efforts of the student alone. She also acknowledged the representatives of the college’s faculty, who “share your commitment to positively impact our local and global communities. They, along with our talented staff, worked tirelessly to prepare you for this moment.”

Graduates acknowledged the dean’s invitation to recognize the contributions from families, friends, faculty and staff with enthusiastic applause and cheers. Lietz also asked the crowd to acknowledge support from college benefactors Mike and Cindy Watts with more applause and acclamation.

As the event drew to a close, Lietz spoke about what motivates people in public service.

“These graduates remind us that what drives our passion for public service is deeply personal,” the dean said. “Their stories also affirm our belief that hands-on, service learning is an essential part of preparing the next generation of public servants. And they have shown us that excellence, diligence, collaboration and courage are essential ingredients to our ability to improve the well-being of people living in our local communities.”

Graduates express excitement, relief

Graduate Kendall Robbins had only one word to describe what she was feeling just before the ceremony began: “Fantastic!”

Robbins, a Mesa police officer who studied online to earn a Master of Public Safety Leadership and Administration from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said she will treasure memories of learning with classmates what she was passionate about in her career and “professors who helped me see my dream become reality.”

Alex Berumen of Avondale, Arizona, is the first in his family to graduate from ASU, earning a Bachelor of Science in public service and public policy online from the School of Public Affairs. He said he was a Sun Devil fan long before enrolling at ASU and moving to Tempe.

“I’m remembering growing up a Sun Devil, and now I’m actually an alum,” Berumen said.

Alyssa Sanchez of Phoenix, who landed a job as a human resources supervisor at a Scottsdale hotel, said she was grateful to finally be done with requirements for her Bachelor of Science degree in tourism development and management.

“It’s been a long road,” but a favorite professor, Assistant Professor Nicholas Wise of the School of Community Resources and Development, helped ease her way.

“He didn’t always follow the PowerPoint,” she said. “He’d give his own experiences.”

Tony Ashworth of Tennessee plans to remain in Tempe to pursue a Master of Social Work at ASU, with hopes to work with troubled teens.

The road to his Bachelor of Social Work from the School of Social Work involved getting to know other students well in working in areas such as interviewing. “Our class really came together,” he said.

Michelle Irwin’s grandmother wasn’t at the convocation, having passed away recently. But pictures of her, along with the phrase, “This One’s for You,” adorned Irwin’s mortarboard.

Irwin, of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, earned a Bachelor of Arts in community advocacy and social policy from the School of Social Work.

“Any time I needed a bit of advice, she had the wisdom to help me get through,” said Irwin, who will remain at ASU to pursue a Master of Legal Studies at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

Hundreds of maroon and gold balloons fell from the rafters at the end of the roughly two-hour ceremony, a convocation tradition. A band played ASU’s fight song, “Maroon and Gold,” as the balloons floated into the outstretched hands of jubilant graduates and their friends and families, who tossed them about as they departed the arena.

View the spring 2024 Watts College convocation in its entirety on ASU Live.

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