Each semester, CALS students work towards their professional goals while making a difference in communities both on and off campus. To celebrate these students and their remarkable achievements, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences presents the Outstanding Senior Awards.
Eighteen undergraduates and one graduate student earning their degrees from CALS will be honored for their extraordinary accomplishments during the CALS Graduation Convocation preceding the University of Arizona’s 156th Commencement on May 15.
The Graduation Convocation will be live streamed on Friday, May 15, at 2 pm AZ time via the CALS Facebook page. The University’s Commencement Ceremony will be held virtually at 6 p.m. on May 15, with an in-person ceremony to be held on October 30.
Morgan Paige Robbins
CALS Outstanding Senior
Nutritional Sciences - Yuma
"You must always have faith in people. And most importantly, you must always have faith in yourself.”
— Elle Woods
The first graduate of the Nutritional Sciences Didactic Program in Dietetics at the UA Yuma Distance Campus, Morgan Paige Robbins balanced a full class load on top of serving as a member of both the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Southwest Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
For nearly two years, Robbins volunteered at the Yuma Community Food Bank, where she had the opportunity to work with clients, sort food donations, and help facilitate fundraising events, including the annual Drive Out Hunger Golf Tournament and the Warehouse Gala.
“Morgan sets goals, dreams high and achieves what she sets out to accomplish,” said Tanya Hodges, who serves as the Regional Academic Programs Coordinator for the Yuma Distance Campus. “She has the drive, desire and personality to succeed.”
Upon graduation, Robbins plans to complete a 1,200+ hour dietetic internship to receive eligibility to take the registered dietitian credentialing exam. This internship will consist of various rotations that focus on clinical nutrition, community nutrition, and foodservice production and management. After which, she plans to pursue a master's degree in clinical nutrition. Robbins’ long term goals are to specialize in obesity and weight management and work primarily as a bariatric dietitian.
“Once I have gained years of professional experience, I am interested in potentially getting involved with academia and work with the University of Arizona- Yuma branch campus,” Robbins said. “I would love to take on the role as an assistant professor of practice so that University of Arizona- Yuma nutrition and dietetics students can have access to courses on the Yuma campus.”
UA YUMA Outstanding Senior
Sustainable Plant Systems - Yuma
"The hard stuff is behind us. Time to do something we love."
Gus Trujillo is a sustainable plant systems major with an emphasis on leafy green food safety. He hopes to obtain a doctorate in family medicine, followed by a fellowship specializing in neurology.
“I have always had a love for medicine, but agriculture holds a special place in my heart. I am fascinated by the anatomy of plants along with the endosymbiosis of its microbiome,” Trujillo said. “Given the socioeconomic status of my community, making specialized healthcare available to everyone is doing the most I can offer for the people who have supported me through my studies thus far.”
While pursuing his degree and carrying a full-time class load, Trujillo managed a 40-hour work week as a pharmacy tech at Yuma Regional Medical Center.
“Gus is a special young man who loves science and people and understands how plants and crop production can impact the health of our community and world,” Hodges said. “He sees the big picture relating the science of agriculture and keeping America healthy.”
Academic Excellence and Service to the University
Natural Resources and the Environment
After receiving her first undergraduate degree in 2011, Marci Caballero-Reynolds pursued her interest in ecology and joined an ecological conservation team through AmeriCorps. The experience she gained through four years on the ground in the Rocky Mountains reinforced her passions for land stewardship, supporting women in STEM, outdoor education, and promoting diversity in the natural resources field.
Caballero-Reynolds has worked in multiple labs while pursuing her degree in natural resources. She has also worked as a technician for the National Phenology Network, the USGS Cooperative Summer Field Training Program (Flagstaff), the International Research and Applications Program of the UA Institute of the Environment, and the Sky Island Alliance.
“This breadth of experience provides a good idea of her intellectual curiosity and willingness to engage with a broad range of research,” said Donald Falk, a professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, with joint appointments in the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research and the Institute of the Environment.
When she graduates, Caballero-Reynolds would like to secure a position within a land management agency focused on community engagement.
“I’ve focused the last 5 years of school on receiving an education that will prepare me to bring people together and share how ecology and restoration of place are important,” Caballero-Reynolds said. “Change begins with people who care.”
Academic Excellence and Service to the Community
Family Studies and Human Development
“As a sixth grader, I wanted to provide emotional support to cancer patients and their families. I also had an innate interest in the mental health field,” said Yamilex Ramirez, who is graduating this May with a degree in family studies and human development.
While working towards her goals, Ramirez volunteered at Tu Nidito Children and Family Services, where she facilitated grief-related support groups for all ages and provided one-on-one emotional support for children and adolescents through conversation and imaginative play.
“Yamilex is nothing but committed to supporting her students, this college, and the larger community,” said Timothy Ottusch, an assistant professor of practice in family studies and human development. “She works tirelessly to further her own education, make her family proud, and make the University of Arizona and the community a better place.”
Ramirez hopes to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), specializing in grief counseling. Her objective is to provide both individual and family therapy to those grieving a death or loss of health due to critical illness. Through counseling, she hopes to provide individuals with the tools they need to cope and maintain their mental health.
“I intend to bring these services to my small hometown of Rio Rico, Arizona, which lacks mental health resources, especially in schools,” Ramirez said. “As a first-generation, Hispanic female student, my late mother’s and my brother’s emotional and financial support were essential. I pursue my education and career in honor of my mother and the educational and family values she passed on.”
Outstanding GTA | M.S. Agricultural Education
“As an educator, I aspire to inspire,” said Taylor Foerster, who is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Agricultural Education with a Research Emphasis in CALS. Foerster will be defending her thesis this summer, using a novel survey design to examine the training and development needs of wildlife professionals in public outreach and education.
Through her graduate program, Foerster served as a teaching assistant for the Communication in Agriculture and the Life Sciences course, which included 130+ undergraduates from across many of the CALS degree programs.
“She immediately showed a natural propensity for teaching,” said Matthew Mars, an associate professor in Leadership and Innovation and director of the CALS Career Center. “Taylor immediately connected with students.”
“My mission as an instructor is to encourage students to reach their goals and to never give up on something they are passionate about,” Foerster said.
She hopes to continue her research on public outreach models and strategies specific to wildlife and the environment and will be pursing a Ph.D. in communications at the University of Arizona.
Dezarae Salin Angulo
Outstanding Senior | Family Studies and Human Development - Yuma
Dezarae Salin Angulo wants to help children, adolescents, and families who suffer from attachment issues, relationship conflicts, mental health disorders, domestic violence, grief and loss, sexual assault and trauma. Angulo chose a degree in family studies and human development because she hopes to one day give back to her community and better the lives of individuals and families.
“Never give up! I can promise you that you will reach the finish line if you just keep pushing!”
Cristian Moises Salazar de Leon
Outstanding Senior | Plant Sciences
Cristian Moises Salazar de Leon wants to pursue a career in biotechnology, specifically in the field of applied molecular plant sciences. While working towards his degree in plant sciences, Salazar de Leon worked for the Aquaculture Pathology Laboratory (APL) directed by Arun Dhar in the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences, where he was able to conduct pathogen testing on shrimp using molecular tools similar to those used to detect human pathogens like SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
Salazar de Leon has been accepted into the Master of Science Program in the School of Plant Sciences at the University of Arizona.
"Thank you to all the angels in my life here on earth and in heaven who have given me the guidance and strength to accomplish my goals. I hope to continue making y'all proud in graduate school."
Justin Paul Brierley
Outstanding Senior | Agriculture Technology Management
While working towards his degree in Agriculture Technology Management, Justin Brierley held down a full-time job in the agricultural industry and worked to expand his knowledge outside of the classroom. Following graduation this May, Brierley plans to join the United States Coast Guard to further his horizons and gain new world experiences. With his passion for agriculture, he expects to return to the industry after his service and help tackle the grand challenges in food production.
"Seek opportunity not security."
Outstanding Senior | Agricultural Technology Management & Education
Throughout his time in CALS, Jonathan Link served as a student worker in the Agricultural Technology Education Center (ATEC) classroom and has taken on the role of Project Manager for several of the UA Green Fund Grant projects, including a Mobile Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Demonstration Cart. Last fall, he assisted in the preparation and installation of a solar-powered submersible well for the San Carlos Apache Tribe. Link serves as a CALS Ambassador, an active member of Alpha Pi Chapter of Alpha Gamma Rho Fraternity and holds a leadership role of the Young Farmer’s & Ranchers organization.
Following graduation, Link will pursue a Master’s in Agricultural Education and hopes to apply his communication and leadership skills to help future generations pursue their interests in agriculture.
"Don't let school get in the way of your education."
Alanna Victoria Zubler
Outstanding Senior | Biosystems Engineering
With numerous and diverse work experience, Alanna Victoria Zubler’s research interests are diverse. Throughout her time in CALS, Zubler has worked in several labs and had the opportunity to perform research in a variety fields, including optics, hydroponics, irrigation systems, soil analysis, crop imaging and remote sensing. Zubler took advantage of study abroad opportunities which ignited a desire to create technologies that will be accessible to everyone. She intends to pursue a Master’s in Biosystems Engineering, focusing on smartphone-and machine learning-based imaging.
"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?”—Martin Luther King, Jr.
Alison Brianna Conley
Outstanding Senior | Environmental & Water Resource Economics
Alison Brianna Conley wants to influence change in environmental and development policy, and ultimately help bring about an economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable future. While pursing her degree in environmental and water resource economics, Conley took every opportunity to develop her leadership and technical skills, serving as a student teacher on the Bio/Diversity Project, chairing public relations and outreach efforts for the UA Green Fund, and serving as an undergraduate research assistant on a project exploring the effects of weather information in predicting agricultural production. Conley intends to continue her education and to attend graduate school to earn a degree in economics.
“If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”—Malala Yousafzai
Outstanding Senior | Retailing & Consumer Sciences
Throughout her college career, Sandy Trieu has been a leader in campus-wide organizations, including the Student Vietnamese Association and the Norton School Sewing Club. Following a policy-based critical thinking project, Trieu was inspired to give back to the community and organized a donation drive for feminine hygiene products for homeless women in Tucson. Trieu wants to continue to help people and advocate for underprivileged women through non-profit and social work. Ultimately, she hopes to open her own sewing shop to sell garments and inspire future generations of sewers.
Olin Benjamin Marman
Outstanding Senior | Agribusiness Economics & Management
Olin Benjamin Marman spent his free time avidly learning Cantonese, while earning two B.S. degrees in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and a plethora of minors as an Honors student. Marman sought to take advantage of every opportunity campus afforded, taking classes on Russian food culture, modern poetry, changing perceptions of gender, and natural resource use on Southwestern tribal lands. Additionally, he requested special permission to take a Masters-level mathematical statistics and econometrics two-course sequence. Marman plans to continue his education and hopes to analyze and develop international trade policies between private organizations, governments, and NGO’s.
“What is pertinent is the calmness of beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it.”― Kazuo Ishiguro
Vimarys Oliveras Miranda
Outstanding Senior | Veterinary Science
After graduating, Vimarys Oliveras Miranda will continue working in Ravishankar’s Food Safety Lab and at Prosense Consumer Research Center as a lab technician. She hopes to continue learning additional microbiological and sensory techniques, with the ultimate goal of pursuing a research position at one of the USDA laboratories and continue to apply her knowledge of microbiology, food safety and sensory analysis towards improving public health. Serving the community is important to Miranda, who through a CONSERVE Summer internship opportunity investigated the effectiveness of ozone against Salmonella entericain recycled and non-recycled spinachwash water. Miranda has participated in various outreach activities conducted Ravishankar's team, including demonstrations regarding food safety and microbiology for various local high school students engaged in STEM education.
Outstanding Senior | Nutritional Sciences
Early in her senior year, Sofia Grijalva realized that dietetics wasn't her true path, and it felt like she hit a roadblock. After reflecting on her my interests, she found what truly inspired her was the relationship between culture and dietary behaviors. Grijalva has accepted a seat New York University’s food studies masters program. She hopes to travel to different nations and observe their diverse behavior and relationships with food and exercise. Grijalva plans to conduct research on the prevalence of specific nutrition related diseases and their connection to culture, food, exercise, and overall nutritional status. Ultimately, Grijalva aspires to use the power of journalism to promote a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
“The one thing that nobody can ever take away from you is your knowledge.”
Hannah Rae Pickens
Outstanding Senior | Environmental Science
For her honors thesis, environmental science major Hannah Rae Pickens researched the most effective examples of art and science collaboration, using what she found to create her own art piece. As a graduating senior, Pickens knows successful communication and translation is vital to the scientific process. So, she decided to carve a sculpture to tackle one of the—arguably—toughest environmental issues to effectively communicate: climate change. Because she wished her art piece to impact her local community, she chose one of the defining flora of the Sonoran Desert, the saguaro cactus. In the short-term, Pickens hopes to attend graduate school in the UK and would like to specialize in the intersectionality of social sciences and environmental science, studying environmental translation and cultural environmental responses. Ultimately, Pickens would like to pursue a career in the international environmental non-profit sphere.
“The goal of my climate art is to prompt questioning, elicit an emotion, and make people start to care.”
Outstanding Senior | Sustainable Plant Systems
Casey Gajewski's love for environmental science started in her hometown of Granby, Connecticut. Gajewski believes there’s a deep connection between art and science—specifically plant science—and this connection gives people a greater appreciation for our natural environment. In her free time, Gajewski likes to take photos of nature. In her future, Gajewski sees potential in a career in Phoenix as a corporate event designer, applying all she's learned from internships and environmental education. In the long-term, she would like to pursue a master’s in plant sciences and see where it takes her in the field of environmental sciences.
"Stay motivated through your first years of courses and you’ll be rewarded with exciting and interesting classes later on! Never overlook meeting new people; you'll never know what connections you can make."
Katrien De Belder
Outstanding Senior | Microbiology
Katrien De Belder's passion for microbiology has led her to further pursue her understanding of microorganisms. Being the first in her family to attend college, the transition was a bit challenging. Despite those initial obstacles, De Belder believes she found her niche in CALS. After graduation, she plans on earning a master’s degree in microbiology and has accepted a seat within the Accelerated MS Program in Microbiology in the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences. Upon completing her master's degree, she hopes to find a position at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia and work on projects that have socio-economic implications in the US and beyond.
Giovanni Ryan Comella
Outstanding Senior | Animal Sciences
After graduating from the University of Arizona, Giovanni Ryan Comella will pursue a master’s degree in food studies from Chatham University. His ultimate goal is to become a professor of food studies. Comella wants to educate students about the role food plays in shaping society and identity, as well as the history of various foods and illuminate their place in modern culture. He hopes to inspire more people to cook, be adventurous in their eating, and engage with their food on a deeper level.