Outstanding Graduates of 2020-2021 pushed themselves forward, overcame challenges during a rare year
Graduates of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions during the 2020-2021 school year will forever remember it as the year of COVID-19. Despite the many challenges posed by the global pandemic, Watts College students were still able to achieve and excel in their academic endeavors, encouraged by a faculty who shared with them ways to find opportunity amid adversity. The following stories of 10 students, honored as the fall 2020 and spring 2021 Outstanding Graduates of each of the Watts College’s four schools and its interdisciplinary programs, are examples of people pushing hard and overcoming obstacles, familiar and unfamiliar, in pursuit of their dreams.
As a child growing up in Phoenix, Bhavana Bellamkonda didn’t know what social work was, but she admired the “helpers” in her life, observing people in careers in medicine and education. “As a child I was unaware of the field of social work,” she said, “but I knew that I wanted to be a helper when I grew up.”
Injustice has always spurred April Karina Guevara Espinoza to do battle for those who are being inequitably treated. She plans to do it someday as a human rights or immigration law attorney. But her efforts to balance the scales began long before that. “I have been fighting on behalf of others since I was a child,” she said.
Brooke Hanna didn’t struggle with what she wanted to study upon enrolling at ASU. She had been working with children and in sports, separately and together, for a long time. “Two of my passions have led me to where I am now,” she said. She has been working at Residential Programs for Youth, a group home and emergency shelter for children.
Ever since she was very young, Alexis Klemm was fascinated by the study of the mind and human actions. That captivation first came from watching TV dramas such as “Law & Order” and “Criminal Minds.” Then, as a middle and high school student, she began taking courses in psychology, forensic sciences and sociology.
Angel Ocegueda said his studies revealed several points where technological advances, while providing so many convenient services, also potentially leave much private information exposed. “We as a society are very dependent on our phones, computers, emails, video chat services and other devices. There are many cyber-threats out there,” he said.
Danielle Bosma’s journey into the study of social work began about 10 years ago, when she began to question her church’s view of people identifying as LGBTQ. “I joined others — both LGBTQ people and allies — in what has been a meaningful journey,” she said. “Listening to stories I hadn’t been able to connect with in the past allowed me to further explore other concerns such as how women, too, are so often marginalized.”
Jose Pelaez was in the Middle East as a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve when he realized he wanted to be more involved in emergency management and homeland security planning. “I realized that I needed to become a more well-rounded supervisor, not only in the criminal justice field, but also in emergency management in general. Both jobs required that I take charge during different types of emergencies and work along with outside agencies.”
Stephanie Pham said her experience as a volunteer led her to decide to dedicate her career to helping the less fortunate. Pham, a first-generation college student who has always had a passion to serve her community, recalls the moment when she realized she had found her purpose. It happened during a voluntary action course. “… I remember listening to the lecture, being completely engaged. For the first time, my heart was glowing, and I knew I was finally in the right place where I needed to be.”
Just two weeks before she moved into her freshman dorm at ASU, Carson Swisher surprised her mother with an announcement that would alter the course of her future: She was changing majors from kinesiology to criminal justice. “…I thought criminal justice was a field that was constantly evolving and applicable,” she said, “With current events this is something that has shown true.”
“It was the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Dion Johnson that triggered my ‘aha moment’ and subsequent passion to dig deep into the historical injustices and traumas of the past,” Tiffany Thornhill said. “Understanding that will inform a framework or theory that can and will address the administrative evils within the American public administration system.”