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After a lifetime of helping, new ASU grad is ready to heal the world.
ASU grad understands helping people is more than making herself feel important.
December 10, 2015

New grad fueled her passion for social justice at ASU

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

When she was a child, Kaitlyn Fitzgerald took on the responsibility of helping to heal her family. As a new graduate of Arizona State University, she is setting her sights on repairing the world.

Since high school, Fitzgerald has devoted her life to social justice — helping refugees and those in need in Phoenix and beyond.

On Dec. 14, she will give two commencement addresses — as the student speaker for Barrett, the Honors College, and as the outstanding graduating student at the W. P. Carey School of Business. She will earn two degrees — in global studies and in business/public service and public policy.

Fitzgerald said her speech at the W. P. Carey ceremony will touch on “The Lorax,” the Dr. Seuss book that includes the line: "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

That’s a concept that she has embraced since her childhood in Gilbert.

“My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease shortly after I was born, due to complications in the pregnancy,” Fitzgerald said.

“Growing up, I was the primary caretaker for her. That forced me to mature a lot quicker than a lot of my peers.”

She monitored her mother’s medication, did much of the housework and helped her mother get around.

When Fitzgerald was in fifth grade, her 23-year-old brother died suddenly.

“Trauma and stress can make Parkinson’s progress faster. We were all going through a lot having lost him, but at the same time there was not really any time to grieve.

“I needed to be strong and responsible and to help pick up the pieces. That was the mindset I had as a kid. It was isolating.”

She read a lot, drawn especially to stories about young Jewish people during the Holocaust.

“Everyone thought it was morbid but I thought that if these people were going through so much more than me, I could do it.”

A turning point came while Fitzgerald was a student at Seton Catholic High School in Chandler and she read “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Solder,” by Ishmael Beah, the story of the author's life during the war in Sierra Leone and how he escaped.

She was shocked.

“I had thought that the difficulties and challenges and injustices of the world were in the past because after the Holocaust we said, ‘never again,’ right?

“That was when I realized there was a lot more work to be done and I would dedicate my life to doing the work to make the world a better place.”

Fitzgerald continued to read about Sudan and child soldiers, and she won second place in a fundraising contest to benefit the Arizona Lost Boys CenterThe center was established in 2002 to resettle and support “Lost Boys” — young refugees who were fleeing civil war in Sudan. In 2011, the center was renamed The Lost Boys Center for Leadership Development. in Phoenix.

“They gave us a cash prize for fundraising contest, which I thought was ludicrous so I re-contributed my prize and submitted paperwork to be a volunteer a few months later.”

The program director called, asking if she would like to teach English as a second language.

“I said, ‘You know I’m in high school, right?’ "

They were fine with it.

Unhappy with the lessons being taught, Fitzgerald redesigned the program and arranged for ASU students and retired teachers to help at the center.

“That’s how my boyfriend won me over — by volunteering with me,” she said.

Along the way, Fitzgerald learned some of the pitfalls of volunteer work.

While still in high school, she visited a small village in Ghana.

"The experience was transformational, but at the end of the two weeks that we spent plastering the classroom building, I realized that we were wasting resources by being there.

“We were there because we claimed to want to make a difference, yet we spent so much money to fly there and be cared for there — money that, had we directly invested into the project, would have resulted in more classrooms.”

After that, she launched the Anidaso Project, which buys handmade bags from a Ghanaian entrepreneur and sells them to fund scholarships for children in Ghana.

With her life already devoted to social justice, Fitzgerald got into her “dream school” of the University of California, Berkeley. But she was devoted to her family and her work in Arizona.

“I was still working with the Lost Boys, and my time with that organization was not through yet and I knew it, so I decided to see where ASU would take me.”

As it turned out, it took her to the passion of her life.

“When I walked into Changemaker CentralChangemaker Central is an organization that provides resources and opportunities for ASU students to create social change., I was mesmerized by the work they were trying to do, showing every student at ASU the potential they have to change their community and the world,” Fitzgerald said.

She became the student director for her sophomore and junior years, and during that time the group grew from a handful of students to more than 100 at all four campuses. Changemaker Central won the prestigious Ashoka U-Cordes Innovation Award in 2013 for its student-led initiatives.

After her terms as director of Changemaker Central, Fitzgerald took a job as the communications and logistics specialist with the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program, which provides scholarships to students from Africa who commit to returning and improving their communities.

Kaitlyn Fitzgerald and Lilian Ngweta
Kaitlyn Fitzgerald works with MasterCard Foundation Scholar Lilian Ngweta. Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

She also studied abroad in Jordan and Palestine, and will earn a certificate in Arabic along with her two degrees.

Fitzgerald had an opportunity to work in Washington, D.C., but her devotion to her family kept her in Arizona while she decides her next move. Eventually, she says, she would like to get an MBA.

"I’m not completely sure what the world needs from me,” Fitzgerald said, but she is unwavering in her passion for helping humanity.

 “I credit where I am right now completely to ASU, to the fact that it gave me an opportunity as a sophomore to have my dream job, and to work side by side with deans and vice presidents and to be in the conversation that students at other institutions are not allowed to be in.

 “The fact that I believe we will make the world better I credit to ASU.”

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503

 
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Holiday stress have you pulling your hair out?

ASU experts share advice on how to cope with holiday stress.
Knowing your limits and setting expectations can help with holiday stress.
December 10, 2015

ASU experts save the day with some insight into what causes stress and how to cope

Aside from warm family gatherings and coma-inducing feasts, the holidays often go hand-in-hand with something much less pleasant: stress.

It’s something that, according to Arizona State University professor Cheryl ConradCheryl Conrad is a professor in the Department of Psychology, an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University. She also serves as associate dean for research within the college., is “critical for survival.”

Thousands of years ago, when stress reactions evolved in humans, they allowed us to adapt to changing conditions like food scarcity or the threat of predators. Today, humans’ laughably easy access to food and goods coupled with an enviable position at the top of the food chain has resulted in a paradigm shift.

“Today, we stress about things like mortgage payments or getting jobs,” said Conrad, “more what you call ‘psychological’ worries . ... We dwell on [those worries], they fester as we think about them.”

And sometimes they even negatively impact our quality of life.

ASU Now spoke with both Conrad and fellow professor of psychology Suniya Luthar to gain some insight into what causes stresses and how to cope with it. Here’s what we learned:

When it comes to stress, control and predictability are very important

During the holidays, people tend to get overwhelmed with lots of mini-deadlines — like gift shopping or sending holiday cards — in addition to their regular deadlines. That feeling of being overwhelmed can trigger a sense that one has lost control over their life.

Restoring that control, even if it’s just “perceived” control can help, says Conrad: “Have a plan and a strategy, and stick to it.”

People also tend to travel more during the holidays, something that disrupts their normal routines. For those jet-setters, Conrad suggests taking time out just for yourself to relax and unwind by doing something you always enjoy, whether it’s exercising, reading or watching TV.

“Those little decompression moments give us something to look forward to” in an otherwise disrupted routine.

Higher expectations lead to higher levels of stress

The holiday season has a tendency to increase peoples’ expectations of one another.

“Somehow there is a feeling that you will get together with friends and family, and there will be a great deal of warmth and sharing. But the higher the expectations, the more likely that you will be disappointed,” Luthar said.

Adding to that is the fact that they seem to come one on top of the other, with no letup from fall until the beginning of the New Year.

It helps to have the mindset that you don’t have to please everyone.

“Figure out what you can do realistically and comfortably,” Luthar said. “If you’ve been invited to a party and you’re exhausted, don’t go. Send your apologies. You don’t have to attend every party.”

There are many ways to cope with stress

Sometimes when you’re feeling stressed out, simply talking about it with a friend or therapist can help. If that doesn’t work, try something else: a relaxing bubble bath, a soothing massage or even cooking. There’s no one coping strategy that will work for everyone.

“People need to find their own outlets,” Conrad said.

For students dealing with the stress of finals, she suggests breaking down vague goals — such as “I need to pass my final on Wednesday” — into bite-size chunks that are more realistically achievable, like “study chapter one for an hour on Monday.”

When all else fails, see a medical professional

Luthar lists inability to sleep and lack of appetite as possible signs that you might want to consult a doctor about your stress.

Though Conrad emphasizes the fact that she is not herself a physician, she echoes Luthar’s sentiment that when stress begins to greatly interfere with one’s daily routine, seeking helpful resources is probably a good idea.

She points out that ASU Health Services available to students and staff are “phenomenal,” and encourages anyone who thinks they could benefit from them to take advantage of the resource.

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657