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Successful seniors graduate to grander adventures

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As the graduating class of 2017 starts the next stage of its life, there are a few students who truly stand out. Among their highly qualified peers, these four students have won awards, participated in research and beaten the odds to walk across the stage and be recognized for the work they have done during their time at the UA. Friday will be an exciting day for all of the graduates, including these four exceptional seniors.

Fatima Molina 

Fatima Molina is graduating with two degrees, one in microbiology and one in anthropology. She is a Navajo Gates Scholar and has spent two summers leading a wellness camp in Prescott, Arizona that provides education and hopes to prevent diabetes in American Indian children. Last summer, after spending a year at California State University studying marine biology, Molina went to the Czech Republic to study jellyfish parasites.

“I had never been out of the country, except for Canada,” Molina said. “It was such a different experience for me.” 

Molina said she enjoyed getting to put her German to the test. Molina has a wide range of interests, and during her time at the UA took jazz dance classes, Spanish and German classes, as well as all of the required classes for her double major.

“There are times where you think you can’t do it, but education opens up so many doors,” Molina said. “I don’t know what I am doing, but I’m just going to do it.”

Advice:

“It’s really like they say. Join a club. Attach yourself to a cohort. It’s important to keep a good balance,” Molina said.

Because of her scholarship, Molina joined the Gates Club. She also became highly involved with the other American Indian students on campus.

“Personally, I feel like I don’t know a whole lot about my culture,” Molina said, “But I want to know more, and it’s important to keep your identity.” Molina tries to incorporate traditional values into her everyday life.

Looking forward:

Molina is currently applying to masters programs in Germany and hopes to work in epidemiology.

Albert Alan

After leaving the home of his PTSD-stricken, abusive father and living on the streets for three years before coming to the UA, Albert Alan is now graduating with three degrees.

“When I came here, I would see the beautiful books, the big campus and little, small me,” Alan said. “I knew there was a place for me here.” 

Alan will receive a BHS in physiology, a BS in neuroscience and cognitive science and a BA in sociology. During his time at the UA, Alan has dedicated himself to giving back and helping people in situations similar to his own experience.

“What homelessness taught me,” Alan said, “is how to be a problem-solver.” Alan has worked extensively within the Minority Health Disparity Research program and become an EMT, as well as delivering 10,000 pounds of produce monthly to homeless shelters. Alan has also started a successful tutoring program for underserved STEM students. He is a recipient of the Nugent Award and will be sitting next to President Ann Weaver Hart on the ceremony stage. 

“Who knew,” asked Alan, “coming here so small that I would be sitting on the podium next to the president at graduation?”

Advice:

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Alan said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” Alan added that the relationships he has made with professors and staff at the university have given him the family he never had. 

“Don’t be afraid to talk about your adversity,” Alan said. “Utilize the education that so many don’t get the chance to have.”

Looking forward:

After graduating, Alan starts the Pre-Medical Admissions Pathway program on May 15. In the future, he hopes to become a physician. 

“I just can’t wait to be in that hospital,” Alan said. “I can’t wait to just be there for someone.”

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Courtney Barnes

After taking time off to focus on her health and to raise her three children, Courtney Barnes is now graduating with a degree in psychology. In order to balance her busy life with school, Barnes was part of the UA Online degree program. She is working toward being a hospice chaplain and using her psychology degree to help council elderly and Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

Barnes has been working as a minister at Brookdale East, an assisted living facility in Tucson, setting up church services for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. Their service starts with an engaging session of chair yoga, which helps to bring energy to the patients.

“It’s like seeing a candle reignite from nothing,” Barnes said. “They may not be able to tell you if they had breakfast that day, but they can tell you long stories and memories about their childhoods.” Barnes decided to dedicate her life to helping elderly and ill patients deal with their fear of passing away because of her own experience. Before coming to the UA, Barnes was very ill and nearly died. 

“I felt like everything was melting and turning into light,” Barnes said, explaining that she wants to share her experience to help others. 

“I want to be able to give people that hope and that peace so they are not afraid.”

Advice:

Barnes said that the key to being a successful online student and mom is finding the ever-more-elusive balance of parenting, school and life. She recommends a little bit of sugar and caffeine to help get through the studying and late-night tests. 

“Take yourself seriously and communicate with your teachers early,” Barnes said, adding that miscommunication is easy during online classes and that asking for help is key. For moms who are going to school, Barnes said to enlist the help of a partner, parent or friend. 

“You have to forgive yourself for not being supermom for a little while,” Barnes said.

Looking forward:

After graduation, Barnes is moving with her family to Chicago to attend the Chicago Theological Seminary. She hopes to become a chaplain working in a hospital helping both hospice and acute care patients. She also hopes one day to write books about grief. Barnes recently wrote an essay about LGBT identity inside the Church that will be featured in Brandan Robertson’s upcoming book: “Our Witness: Stories of LGBT Christians.”

Christina Morrison 

After already completing a BS in evolutionary biology, Christina Morrison is now graduating with a degree in chemical engineering. After nearly completing her first degree, Morrison found her passion with water conservation and treatment.

“I am really passionate about clean water,” Morrison said. “Something clicked and I love the mixture between the technical, biological and chemical knowledge.” While at the UA Morrison was part of two research labs, one being the NASA Space Research Grant, where she worked on developing space laundry.

“Basically, astronauts have to throw away all of their clothes after they use them,” Morrison said. This adds a lot of mass to the waste that they produce. Morrison worked with professor Charles Gerba to develop a chemical dry-cleaning method for astronauts to wash their clothes that are embedded with silver threads. 

“The next step would be having people wear the socks,” she said. Morrison also recently showcased her senior design project at Engineering Design Day, where her team was nominated for an award.

“We didn’t win,” she said, “but it was so fun to be nominated.” The project worked by converting bio-gas from waste treatment plants into electricity. 

“It is a wasted gas that is always going to be produced,” Morrison said. “So why not use it?”

Advice:

After working on two different research projects and in a variety of labs, Morrison advised incoming students to get involved with research as soon as possible. 

“Get involved wherever you can, even the volunteer programs are really fun,” she said. “They are what made me realize that I wanted to do research.”

Looking forward:

Following graduation, Morrison will attend the UA for graduate school, working toward a Master’s degree in soil, water and environmental science. After that, she said she hopes to become a wastewater engineer and apply her knowledge to creating new ways to improve clean water availability. 

“I have no idea what my next project will be,” she said, “but I am excited to start.”


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