ASU grad's project takes a closer look at teen motherhood

May 11, 2015

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Amanda Mollindo didn’t set out to become a photographer. Photograph from ASU student Amanda Mollindo's show "Young Mothers." Download Full Image

Even though she loved taking photos in high school – of her family, her friends, the landscape around Yuma, Arizona, where she grew up – the Barrett, The Honors College student came to Arizona State University to study digital culture.

One of her first digital culture classes was taught by Betsy Schneider, faculty in the ASU School of Art in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and a renowned fine-art photographer.

“I got to know the photography program really well really fast,” Mollindo said, “and I fell in love with it.”

Mollindo tried double-majoring for a while, but she noticed that all of the classes she was signing up for were photo classes.

“I love photography too much,” she said, smiling. “It got in the way.”

A brief mention of teen mothers, in a women’s studies class her sophomore year, gave Mollindo the focus for her thesis project.

Mollindo’s own mother was just 17 when she gave birth, after which she left to attend ASU and didn’t return. Mollindo was raised in Yuma by her grandparents, who took guardianship of her.

“All of a sudden it clicked and I knew,” she said. “I immediately went to Betsy, because I had worked with her and I knew she had done a lot of work with family. I knew she would be a really great thesis director, and I also worked with Dr. Aviva Dove, in the honors college.”

“Young Mothers: Exploring Life After Teen Pregnancy” took several years of research, interviewing, writing and photographing – 17 families in all, including Mollindo and her mother.

“What was interesting to me was the media portrayal of teen pregnancy,” Mollindo said. “Growing up I knew my mom had me at a young age, I was aware of the fact that it was a little bit taboo and that it was something that wasn’t supposed to happen. I got that from the community and the fact that there was no real media representation that I could relate to.”

Through her job at a preschool in Mesa, Mollindo’s mother helped Mollindo find families to photograph.

“She’s always been really supportive of the project,” Mollindo said of her mother, “and she agreed that there wasn’t a whole lot that really explains what [the experience of teen motherhood] is like. It’s more like how to prevent it.

As supportive as she was, Mollindo’s mother was reluctant to give her own interview for the project, Mollindo said, “because we both knew it was going to be really difficult. Once I finally did interview her, I realized that this was really a project to understand our relationship a little bit better. That was a really important experience for me.”

Mollindo is quick to point out that the project wasn’t “just about me. I was really interested in other people’s experiences as well. It wouldn’t be as effective if it wasn’t both.”

Mollindo mounted her thesis show at Modified, a gallery in downtown Phoenix. The day she began installing the exhibition, she said, she knew she needed to produce a book, too.

“We were like halfway done with installing, and I came back to school to make the book,” she remembered. “It was finished the morning of the opening. It wasn’t a pretty time in my life. I was exhausted. I was fortunate enough to have some really supportive friends to help with the install and get me through it. When I talk to other people in other majors, it’s really clear that we have a very special community in the School of Art, within our programs.”

After graduation, Mollindo has an internship lined up through the middle of September, at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, Colorado, where she will help out with workshops in photo and new media.

After that, she said, “I don’t know. I do want to go to graduate school in the next couple of years, but I want to know what it’s like to be a working adult for a while.”

Her mother would like her to continue making art, she says.

“She’s really glad that I’ve chosen to pursue something that I’m really passionate about,” Mollindo said. “And my family is really supportive of me choosing to go into photography. They’re proud of what I’ve done so far. They think that I’ll be ok, that I’ll do fine in the arts.”

So does Betsy Schneider, the professor with whom Mollindo worked on the “Young Mothers” project, who describes Mollindo as “self-motivated and ambitious, but also aware of how much she doesn’t know and eager to have the help to progress.”

“She’s soaked up the best of Barrett [The Honors College] and the School of Art,” Schneider said of Mollindo. “I’ve watched her grow so much over the past four years, and I can’t wait to see where she goes next.”

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


ASU Tucson graduation a celebration of community, commitment

May 11, 2015

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A sign of the strong sense of community that defines the Arizona State University Tucson campus, more than 1,300 people came out to congratulate the 100 graduates in the School of Social Work, part of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Cassie Meredeck with mother Download Full Image

“Your graduation is a significant point of pride for the school and the faculty,” professor Craig LeCroy told graduates. “We have gotten to know each and every one of you. We are deeply thankful for your commitment to learn and willingness to apply your skills to go out and make a difference in the world. Each graduate sitting in front of me tonight offers something special to the world.”

Graduate student Molly Gebler was named outstanding graduate for the ASU School of Social Work. She will be working for the state Department of Child Safety.

“I am extremely excited for the opportunity to work for an agency that is ever-evolving and expects hard work and dedication. I plan to remain in Tucson and work for the community that has given me so much,” Gebler said.

Looking back on her experience, Rosa Montaño said, “The most memorable part for me was to be able to finish my degree here in Tucson and still be with my family.”

Montaño earned her master of social work degree, with a concentration in policy, administration and community, and plans to “advocate for oppressed populations on a policy level.”

“I want to advocate on a larger scale,” she said.

For Cassie Meredeck, the ASU in Tucson experience was excellent from the start.

"I just remember being completely new to this whole experience and meeting some of the faculty during the first week and just being overblown of how supportive they are. They are very encouraging to all of us," said Meredeck, who has a certificate in gerontology and plans to work with older adults living with dementia or mental illness.

Nick Eckley, who earned his master of social work degree, praised the community feel of his studies.

“The most memorable thing about my time at ASU was spending each night with the same people over and over. Just having that group of people there was like a support group,” said Eckley, who will continue his work as a therapist for adolescents and young adults with substance-abuse disorders.

Keynote speaker Ross Zimmerman, senior computer network designer for Pima Community College, reflected on his late son Gabe’s path, seeing “social work as a vehicle for positive change.”

Gabe Zimmerman earned his master of social work from ASU. He joined Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s team as director of community outreach, serving as the face and voice of the office. He was killed in the Tucson shootings on Jan. 8, 2011.

Ross Zimmerman also noted the diverse paths that social work professionals take – and the breadth of impact they can have, even in fields not typically classified as social work.

He noted challenges facing our communities, all with an underlying need to “sustain a society with love, concern and respect. That sounds like a job for social work.”

“The world is dark – violence, poverty, pain. You are the light in that darkness. It is not just your belief in service. It is the belief that the path through that darkness is illuminated by empathy, by human connection. We all benefit from the work you are doing,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“Something about the School of Social Work in Tucson brings a contagious energy to the campus. When you leave here don’t lose it,” said Lela Rankin Williams, associate professor and Tucson coordinator. “We need that energy if we are going to solve the problems impacting our communities every day.”

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare announced a preliminary set of Grand Challenges for Social Work. Whether the goal is eliminating hunger or the stigma of mental illness, the premise of the initiative is “that how well we work together is the most fundamental path to a just, equitable and socially cohesive society.

Williams added, “For my last lecture, the thing that I want to teach you is that the work you are doing is all that matters. All of the solutions to these Grand Challenges start right here, right in our community.”

View a recording of the spring 2015 Tucson graduation.

Heather Beshears

director marketing and communications, College of Public Service and Community Solutions