Photo: FJ Gaylor
Photo: FJ Gaylor

Six to Watch: UA Students Earn Centennial Achievement Awards

For 30 years, the UA has recognized outstanding undergraduate and graduate degree students for the challenges they have overcome and contributions they have made.
Dec. 9, 2014
Jessica Chavez, the child of a single mother, plans to teach in low-income schools. She wants to pursue a graduate degree and become a principal.
Jessica Chavez, the child of a single mother, plans to teach in low-income schools. She wants to pursue a graduate degree and become a principal.
Lysette Davis, who will graduate in May, believes in the power of education and increasing access. She plans to pursue a doctorate in higher education.
Lysette Davis, who will graduate in May, believes in the power of education and increasing access. She plans to pursue a doctorate in higher education.
Henry Gonzalez plans to launch a program of research merging scholarship on Hispanic fathers, families and health. He wants to inspire and encourage the next generation of underrepresented students to pursue higher education.
Henry Gonzalez plans to launch a program of research merging scholarship on Hispanic fathers, families and health. He wants to inspire and encourage the next generation of underrepresented students to pursue higher education.
After Sharlot Marie Dunfield Hart graduates in December 2015, she hopes to continue her service by returning to the National Park Service to work as a curator and archivist. She enjoys packing food at the Community Food Bank, cooking at the Garden Kitchen, building homes with Habitat for Humanity and organizing books at the Pascua Yaqui Community Library.
After Sharlot Marie Dunfield Hart graduates in December 2015, she hopes to continue her service by returning to the National Park Service to work as a curator and archivist. She enjoys packing food at the Community Food Bank, cooking at the Garden Kitchen, building homes with Habitat for Humanity and organizing books at the Pascua Yaqui Community Library.
More than 10 years ago, Semiramies S. Hastain enlisted in the Army, which provided her with the opportunity to serve the country and complete her education.
More than 10 years ago, Semiramies S. Hastain enlisted in the Army, which provided her with the opportunity to serve the country and complete her education.
Matthew T. Matera will graduate with a doctorate in higher education with a focus on college access and educational policy.
Matthew T. Matera will graduate with a doctorate in higher education with a focus on college access and educational policy.

They have founded organizations to support underserved students, conducted research to aid in improved support for low-income students, completed service work in international communities and earned advanced degrees while raising a family.

These are some of the stories of six students who have earned the University of Arizona's Centennial Achievement Awards.

The awards were established in December 1984 by what is now Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. They recognize students who are expected to graduate within the academic year and who have demonstrated integrity, overcome enormous challenges to achieve a college education, and made contributions to self, community and family.

The Centennial Achievement Award recipients, and their degree programs, are:

Jessica Chavez, bachelor's in elementary education

Chavez, the child of a single mother, lived in a women's shelter during her youth. Although the odds were stacked against her at an early age, her desire to succeed was strong.

After graduating from high school, Chavez joined the U.S. Army as a military police officer, later earning the Army Achievement Medal. Injured during her service, she was forced to leave the military, receiving an honorable discharge. 

Chavez began her college education at Pima Community College, later transferring to UA South to pursue a bachelor's degree in elementary education. As a non-traditional student at the UA, she has had the added responsibility of being a mother to two young children, a wife and an employee. Chavez said she wants to prove to her children that there are no barriers to success.

Chavez received the UA South merit-based scholarship and has made the Dean's List, working to keep a 4.0 grade-point average. She is a Gamma Beta Phi Honor Society member and participates in community service opportunities, such as raising money to provide clothes and blankets for women's shelters and hosting holiday food drives.

After graduating, Chavez plans to teach in low-income schools. She plans eventually to pursue a graduate degree and work as a school principal.

Lysette Davis, master's in higher education, Center for the Study of Higher Education

In 2009, California native Davis completed a bachelor of arts in political science and government from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. During her studies, she was a research intern and assistant in the British Parliament as part of a prestigious study-abroad program.

After graduation, Davis served in the U.S. Peace Corps as a teacher of English fluency, then decided to pursue a master's degree to promote education globally and address issues of access.

At the UA, Davis was a representative for the Graduate and Professional Student Council and founded the College of Education Student Government to better serve students in the college. Davis also was on the board of directors for the Arizona Student Association and focused on student advocacy through policy change. Most recently she has become a board member of She's the First, an organization committed to sponsoring girls' education in low-income countries with the goal of creating first-generation graduates and the next generation of global leaders.

She was promoted to the role of community director for the Residential Honors Experience to work as a liaison between Residence Life and the Honors College, and she has extended her interest in sustainability and service in her work with Residence Life. Davis also holds an internship in Leadership Programs, where she instructs two courses that focus on social change and advocacy. All of these roles contributed to her selection for the Lexie Kamerman Award at the 2014 UA Student Affairs Symposium.

Henry Gonzalez, doctorate in family and consumer sciences, specialization in family studies and human development

Gonzalez was born in an inner barrio in East Los Angeles to immigrant parents with only an elementary school education. His parents encouraged him to stay in school and graduate from his inner-city public high school.

It was not until fourth grade that he took his first English-only course. The language limitations of his parents motivated him to better understand the sociocultural context of immigrant and Hispanic families.

As a first-generation student, Gonzalez earned a bachelor of science in human development and a bachelor of arts in psychology from the University of California, Davis.

With a minor in public health, Gonzalez's dissertation project is focused on examining how cultural values among Mexican-origin fathers may serve as buffers from discrimination, English-language competency pressures, economic hardship and psychological distress. Through his dissertation, he will develop specific recommendations for practitioners promoting responsible fatherhood and healthy family relationships among Mexican-origin families.

Gonzalez recently was awarded a two-year dissertation fellowship as a Family Strengthening Scholar by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Earning an National Science Foundation predoctoral fellowship at the UA provided him with the opportunity to launch a program of research specifically on low-income Hispanic fathers.

Also motivated by his public health minor, Gonzalez secured a selective summer fellowship with the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families in Washington, D.C. There, he received extensive training in conducting practitioner and policy-relevant research focused on fathers and Hispanic families.

Sharlot Marie Dunfield Hart, master's in applied archaeology

Hart, a UA School of Anthropology student, graduated from the UA in 2003 with a bachelor of art in history. In May 2014, she earned a master's degree in library and information sciences.

In graduate school, Hart maintained a 4.0 GPA while participating in two master's programs, working for the National Park Service and holding a graduate assistantship. She also served as president of the UA Chapter of the Society of American Archivists. In that capacity, she received a Graduate and Professional Student Council grant to organize a hands-on book repair workshop for archival graduate students.

As an applied archaeology master's candidate, Hart participated in various research projects.

She researched and wrote the report "Ethnographic Overview of Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments," which will be used by the National Park Service in management decisions for some of its cultural resources. 

This year, she is performing field work for her own thesis under her archaeological internship with the Pima County Office of Sustainability and Conservation, investigating the extent of archaeological site boundaries for the University Indian Ruin, a Hohokam site in the eastern Tucson basin.

The Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Fellowship supports Hart's scholarship. The fellowship requires 900 volunteer hours over the course of her master's program. Many of those hours are fulfilled by her internship. 

Semiramies S. Hastain, bachelor's in psychology

Hastain will graduate May 2015, also taking a commission as an officer in the U.S. Army. 

Completing her education has been a long journey for Hastain, who is from Los Angeles. Unable to immediately afford college, Hastain enlisted in the Army in 2003, which provided her the opportunity to serve her country and complete her education.

During deployments and stateside assignments, Hastain continued to make earning her degree a priority. In February 2013, she received an honorable discharge from the Army and enrolled as a full-time student. 

Hastain has received multiple scholarships, and she said her husband supports her desire to fulfill her dreams.

Hastain serves as the Associated Students of the University of Arizona South president and is a member of the Military Affairs Committee, which supports UA South military students. She also is involved with the Student Services Committee for UA South.

Currently, she is working on collaborating with local military organizations to better serve active duty, reservist, National Guard, veteran and dependent students.  In the future, she plans to pursue a master's degree in organizational leadership.

Matthew T. Matera, doctorate in higher education, Center for the Study of Higher Education

Originally from New Jersey, Matera holds a bachelor of arts in history from the College of William & Mary and a master's degree in higher education from the UA.

After working in student affairs at Pima Community College, Matera learned about the struggles and resiliency of immigrant families through conversations with undocumented students. In 2009, he co-founded Scholarships A-Z, a nonprofit organization that helps students and families access resources to achieve their educational goals. 

Throughout his doctoral studies, Matera and the Scholarships A-Z team have organized efforts that helped PCC grant in-state residency tuition to immigrant students with Deferred Action, helping about 1,000 students enroll in college and find scholarships. The team also implemented the first conference in Arizona to train 150 educators on how to work with — and for — undocumented students.

Matera's dissertation examines how educators support the access and success of undocumented immigrant students attending community colleges.

On a national level, Matera connects his research and activism through his leadership-team position with the Dream Educational Empowerment Program of United We Dream. At the UA, he serves as an adviser to the Asian Pacific American Student Affairs Student Board of Directors, which implements programs that celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander identities and creates awareness about oppression and resiliency in our communities.  

Matera has been recognized as a 2013 Erasmus Circle Graduate Scholar and is the recipient of NASPA Latino/a Knowledge Community's 2012 Amigo Award, given to educators who bring to the forefront the needs of Hispanic students and professionals in higher education.