Best in Class: Grads Who Are Going Places

The UA's Class of 2017 has it all, from a planetary scientist who has studied Pluto to a would-be chaplain. In the first part of a two-part series, we introduce four graduates who are poised to make an impact in the world.
May 8, 2017
Extra Info: 

The UA's 153rd Commencement ceremony will be held Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Arizona Stadium. Arizona Public Media will stream the ceremony online: https://media.azpm.org/master/doc/ua/abor/commencement2017.html.

Event details are available online for:

Also: Follow Commencement coverage on Twitter and share using #Beardownlife

The University of Arizona's 2017 graduating class includes a planetary scientist who investigates the formation and evolution of solar system planets, planetary satellites and small bodies, and who helped publish important papers on the Earth moon's axis and an ice-filled impact basin in the western lobe of Pluto's "heart."

Graduates also include a Navajo Gates Millennium Scholar who has studied diabetes and aspires to work nationally and internationally to improve efforts to reduce health risks associated with infectious diseases. And there is a UA Online graduate who hopes to work as a hospice chaplain and a filmmaker who explores identity issues for those living along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Here are a few of the students who will be receiving their degrees on Friday: 

Fatima Molina (double major graduating with degrees in microbiology and anthropology)

Fatima Molina aspires to be at the forefront of infectious disease research nationally and also plans to work in an international sphere in the area of human biology.
Fatima Molina aspires to be at the forefront of infectious disease research nationally and also plans to work in an international sphere in human biology.

A Navajo Gates Millennium Scholar, Molina (Navajo) has been heavily involved in undergraduate research at the UA, with a focus in human biology. Ultimately, she wants to be at the forefront of infectious disease research nationally.

During her undergraduate studies, Molina participated in a number of academic programs, including the Mayo Clinic Spirit of EAGLES program, the National Institutes of Health outreach program and the National Student Exchange program, where she studied at California State University, Monterey Bay, for one year.

In researching the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in American Indian children and adolescents living in the Southwest, Molina studied the medical and spiritual benefits of combining American Indian traditional medicine with Western medicine for surviving cancer patients.

"As a first-generation, low-income, minority female in a STEM field, the UA has adequately provided me with the resources and skills needed to successfully navigate a top-tier research institution while allowing me to explore my personal interests as an undergraduate," Molina said. "As an individual coming to the UA from the Navajo Nation, it was a major, life-changing experience that shaped my choice of pursuing a career abroad."

Molina also researched the phylogeny of microscopic jellyfish parasites, known as Myxozoa, in the Czech Republic through the UA's Prozkoumat! program, with funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Focusing on American Indian populations, Molina has facilitated a diabetes education and prevention camp for students. In March, she was named the recipient of the U.S. House of Representatives Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition, for her service and commitment to aiding in cultural enrichment and cancer prevention in American Indian communities. 

Molina plans to continue her academic career by pursuing a master's degree in public health and a Ph.D. in epidemiology, all with the goal of a career researching infectious diseases nationally and internationally. She has applied for graduate school in Germany and plans to begin her studies abroad in October.

"I strongly believe that microorganisms will play a major role within our global society that will directly affect people's lives in terms of antibiotic resistance, emergence of both new and old diseases, and the ongoing threat of biological warfare," Molina said, noting the connection between climate change and the depletion of natural resources and the subsequent impact on the biological world. 

Aspiring to work for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health or the World Health Organization, Molina said her eventual aim is to "combat the prevalence of infectious diseases within our nation, as well as other locales throughout the world."

James Tuttle Keane (graduating with doctorate from the Department of Planetary Sciences and Lunar and Planetary Laboratory)

James Tuttle Keane made national news twice after having published research on the moon's axis shift, then again when he published research on Pluto's subsurface ocean.
James Tuttle Keane made national news after having published research on the moon's axis shift, then again when he published research on Pluto's subsurface ocean.

After earning degrees in astronomy and geology from the University of Maryland, College Park, Keane moved from one end of the country to the opposite so he could attend the UA. Interestingly, his parents met at the UA as undergraduates. 

"The University has top planetary, astronomy and geology departments. This means that there's no lack of great projects, diverse ideas and potential collaborations," Keane said.

Interested in the formation and evolution of worlds in the solar system, Keane has investigated how the spins of solar system worlds change.

"The spins of planets, moons and small bodies are not stagnant — they continuously evolve in response to myriad different processes, including tides, asteroid impacts, volcanic activity and more," he said. "These processes are ubiquitous."

Keane eventually co-authored seminal research on the Earth moon's axis shift and on Pluto's subsurface ocean, gaining national attention for his work.

While at the UA, Keane has been involved with three NASA missions: GRAIL, as a graduate student science team member; the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, as part of the extended mission proposal team; and OSIRIS-REx, in public engagement, having produced the 321Science! video series. Beyond his planetary research, he is a well-known artist in the planetary science community, producing data-informed works of art.

For his work and promise, Keane has received NASA's Earth and Space Science Fellowship and several other professional awards, including the UA Galileo Circle Scholars Award, the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory's Gerard P. Kuiper Memorial Award and the Geologic Society of America's Eugene M. Shoemaker Impact Cratering Award.

After graduation, he is bound for the California Institute of Technology, where he received the prized Joint Center for Planetary Astronomy Postdoctoral Fellowship. There, he will continue his research, including work on the Moon, terrestrial planets and Pluto.

"As a planetary scientist, the UA stands out for its long history of involvement in NASA robotic exploration missions, from Galileo, Phoenix, HiRISE and now OSIRIS-REx," Keane said. "The UA has provided me with unique opportunities to pursue my research."

Ana Quiñones (graduating from the School of Theatre, Film and Television)

Ana Quiñones is devoted to using film as a medium for self exploration, expression and healing, and her enjoyment of film making is such that the work does not seem taxing to her. (Photo credit: Jack Alexander Jr.)
Ana Quiñones is devoted to using film as a medium for self- exploration, expression and healing, and her enjoyment is such that the work does not seem taxing to her. (Photo: Jack Alexander Jr.)

Quiñones and her family moved around during most of her childhood because of her father's job, and living on the border seemed to be the only thing she could count on for consistency.

Residing on either side of the California/Baja and Arizona/Sonora border created confusion regarding her identity. But Quiñones found that practicing art — specifically the art of filmmaking and storytelling — was crucial in helping her find her voice.

Quiñones is devoted to using film as a medium for self-exploration, expression and healing. She explained that any academic task other than filmmaking is often arduous for her, but she can immerse herself in a film project for hours and derive enjoyment from of it. Unlike most of her classmates, Quiñones had not picked up a video camera before choosing to become a film major at the UA.

"I felt like it was such a complete art form that incorporates so many different things," Quiñones said of her attraction to film.

"I'm very much still developing my own voice. I think that, based on what I've been making these last two years, I just have a weird sense of humor and have been making use of that. Also, a lot of the exploration really comes into play once the collaborative process starts. I really enjoy developing my work with the people that help me make this happen, like production, costume designers, actors, editors and others."

Her senior thesis film, "Daisies for Two," is a dark, romantic comedy. While observing the love interests of other male leads in different movies, Quiñones noticed that the females often were portrayed as ideal for the leading male, but in her opinion there was not much substance to those female characters. Her film, she said, is a more twisted, in-depth exploration of that. 

With plans to eventually move to New York, Quiñones said she has taken much from her film training and collaborations with classmates.

"I got to meet so many talented, creative people," Quiñones said. "I couldn't have done it without them and I'm really, really happy for all of my friends because they all did a really good job."

Courtney Barnes (UA Online student receiving a psychology degree)

UA Online student Courtney Barnes has been active in fundraising for TIHAN: Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network since 2015, serving at the annual Treasures event each year. She also has worked for equal rights and full-inclusion of LGBT people within the church. Her essay on LGBT Christian identity will be featured in Brandan Robertson’s upcoming book, "Our Witness: Stories of LGBT Christians," to be published by Wipf and Stock, and released by Cascade Books in the fall of 2017.
UA Online student Courtney Barnes has been active in fundraising for TIHAN: Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network since 2015, serving at the annual Treasures event each year. She also has worked for equal rights and full inclusion of LGBT people in the church. Her essay on LGBT Christian identity will be featured in Brandan Robertson's upcoming book, "Our Witness: Stories of LGBT Christians," to be published by Wipf and Stock and released by Cascade Books in the fall. 

Barnes, a student from the inaugural group in the UA Online Bachelor of Psychology program, has maintained a 3.9 GPA while finding a sense of balance in raising three children with her husband, Kevin, and contributing to an expansive range of service commitments.

"A main motivation for completing my education was to give our family a better life and to be a positive example for our children," said Barnes, who was named a College of Science Galileo Circle Scholar last year. "I hope that as they see me reaching for my goals, they will be inspired and see that with hard work and determination they can achieve anything they put their minds to."

Her husband and children — Poiema, 12, Isabella, 10, and Elijah, 8 — have been supportive of her educational and career goals. At the end of her time at the UA and motivated to finish her degree this spring, Barnes carried 25 units — 18 at the UA and an additional seven in two other programs.

For the fall, she has been accepted to Chicago Theological Seminary's Master of Divinity program, where she will realize her dream of becoming a hospice chaplain. 

In addition to her academic achievements, Barnes has an impressive resume that reflects an enduring history of service to better the lives of children and the elderly in her community.

She volunteered as a Spanish translator and assisted with reconstructive cranio-facial surgeries through Fresh Start Surgical Gifts Inc., a surgical center run by volunteer medical professionals providing reduced-cost and free surgeries for children with birth defects. 

When she had completed two years of undergraduate study, Barnes became a nurse's aide, caring for children with pediatric cancers and HIV/AIDS in the hematology/oncology ward of Children's Hospital. 

She said her most moving experience came through her work with the Alzheimer's and dementia patients at Brookdale East in Tucson, where for two years she gave a weekly interfaith church service and provided pastoral care as a volunteer chaplain.

And before beginning the psychology program at the UA, Barnes worked with medically fragile and developmentally disabled adults as a certified caregiver.  It was during her pastoral care training for ministry that she began to realize her calling, which shifted her emphasis from physically caring for people who are ill to spiritually and psychologically caring for patients as a chaplain.

"Without UA Online's flexible program, I never could have come this far as a non-traditional adult learner," Barnes said.

"This course of study has enabled me to complete my education, while simultaneously continuing to serve the community and care for my family. This has been a life-changing experience," she said. "I look forward to all that the future holds and I feel such a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunities UA has given me.”

Watch a video of Barnes below:

La Monica Everett-Haynes, Erin Morton, Ashley Jordan, Melanie Lipton, Scott Miller and Lisa Pierce contributed to this article.