Starbucks partner and ASU student becomes first in family to graduate college

December 5, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

For Sarah Knapp, it has taken six years to get to this day. After taking her general education classes at a junior college in Southern California, Knapp was ready to transfer and was beginning to apply to local universities. It was during this time that Knapp lost her mother — her biggest cheerleader — and decided to relocate closer to family.   Family and human development student Sarah Knapp. Download Full Image

After moving near her sister in Northern California, Knapp was ready to get back on track when she learned about ASU Online and the Starbucks College Achievement Plan.

“I had applied to a few universities in the Bay Area where my sister lives. During this time, while I was trying to figure out where to live and what to do, I heard about the Starbucks College Achievement Plan and applied for a job with Starbucks,” Knapp said. “This eventually lead me to Arizona State."

The only person in her family to attend college, Knapp, a family and human development major, plans on working in special education after graduation: “The highlight for me during my program, was taking the child development classes. In addition to personal experiences I have had, it was fascinating to be able to interact with my nieces and nephews using what I learned in class and seeing the different development in action."

Knapp, who made the Dean’s List during her time at ASU and is looking forward to coming to campus for the first time for graduation, answered some questions about her experience with ASU Online.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

A: When I was in high school, I volunteered in the office of a children’s therapist. Being able to work with her, and seeing the difference she made and the milestones the children were hitting was amazing. This started during my sophomore or junior year of high school and I continue to volunteer when I am back home.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I learned a lot about the importance of diversity. Being open to other people's backgrounds, their everyday situations and different opinions on topics that were discussed. Whether a slight difference of my own opinion, or a complete (180), it completely opened my eyes, that even if I didn’t agree with something, that it was OK.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: When I moved to Northern California to be near my sister, I had applied and was accepted to Cal State Northridge. During this same time, as I was looking for a part-time job, I learned that Starbucks offered benefits to part-time employees, including education benefits through Arizona State University and the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. Given that I was starting college a lot later than some of my peers, I knew a number of people from high school that had attended ASU, and all of them talked about how the faculty really cared about their students. That was something I didn’t feel when I was in junior college, so that was huge for me.

After hearing about the experience friends had at ASU, and the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, I decided to apply for a job there. I have now been with Starbucks almost three years.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: For students that are just starting out, I would say go for it. When I started going back to school, I was nervous and didn’t know what to do or where to start. Just getting started is the most important thing. Take it day by day. For those still in school, hang in there. It's been a long road, and many times I was ready to give up. But I was lucky and had a great support system behind me.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: Being an online student, I did most of my work from the couch in the living room, where I have a large window that looks out over my front yard. My boyfriend planted a beautiful succulent garden that you can see from inside the house, and it was really peaceful to look out onto while doing schoolwork.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I would like to find a job in the field of education, working with preschool-aged special needs students. My long-term goal will be going to graduate school and getting my masters in occupational therapy.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would use the money to implement changes in the social services system. I was in foster care as a child, which was not a fun experience. I would love to see the system restructured and for children to be better cared for.

Carrie Peterson

Media Relations Manager, EdPlus at Arizona State University


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Community-based care saves lives

December 5, 2017

An ASU assistant professor's work to establish strong connections with local refugee communities pays off

Doctors have myriad life-saving technologies at their fingertips, but they can all be rendered useless without human warmth and community connection.

That’s what drives the work of Crista Johnson-Agbakwu, an assistant research professor in Arizona State University’s School of Social Work and clinical research affiliate with the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center (SIRC). She’s also a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology. 

“We are examining challenges and barriers to care in vulnerable, underserved and hidden populations,” Johnson-Agbakwu said. “It’s essential to have this kind of community-based care that builds trust.”

Case in point: A Somali mother-to-be developed a life-threatening pregnancy complication a few months after arriving in Phoenix as a refugee. It required immediate delivery of her child.

Exhausted from spending years of her life in one of the world’s largest refugee camps and unable to speak the language of her newly adopted country, she was fearful and intimidated by a healthcare system completely foreign to her.

Despite extensive counseling and education, and even when faced with the likelihood both she and her baby would die as a result, the woman refused.

“She was terrified,” Johnson-Agbakwu said. “We tried to explain it to her for two weeks, but we were getting nowhere.”

The question was why.

Where some might scorn the expectant mother’s seeming disregard for herself and her child or throw up their hands in despair at a patient resolved to act against medical advice, Johnson-Agbakwu and others saw an obstacle requiring extra care, warmth and connection.

As director of the Refugee Women’s Health Clinic, part of Maricopa Integrated Health System, Johnson-Agbakwu and her staff felt confident they could still help this patient and her unborn baby.

They began mobilizing their contacts in the local Somali community along with the patient’s refugee resettlement case manager. They brought in a local community advocate as well as a sheikh (the premier Islamic religious authority for the Somali community in Arizona), who met with the woman and provided religious clarity, encouragement and support. With her anxieties alleviated, she felt empowered to make an informed decision, and she opted to move forward with the delivery.

The result? The clinic’s obstetrics team successfully delivered a healthy newborn and saved the life of the mother.

The Refugee Women’s Health Clinic was founded by Johnson-Agbakwu in 2008. She also leads Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) in the Office of Refugee Health at SIRC, one of two dozen research units in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“There needed to be a safe space where people could speak their native language while navigating an intimidating healthcare system,” said Johnson-Agbakwu.

The clinic has grown tremendously in the nine years since its inception, caring for more than 5,000 women speaking 41 languages from over 51 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Its multilingual staff includes refugee women who serve as cultural health navigators. Together, they speak 13 languages fluently and offer a team-based approach to health care.

Johnson-Agbakwu built up the clinic from scratch by working with Maricopa Integrated Health System, the state’s only safety net hospital for the most vulnerable in our society. This allowed her to seamlessly integrate the community-based model of CBPR every step of the way. By fostering connections and partnerships within the communities they serve, the staff built that most essential and elusive quality into their practice: trust.

“Being out in the community, pounding the pavement, letting the people know they have your full support — it takes a significant investment,” Johnson-Agbakwu said. “But it’s necessary. Their views matter, and our initiative is focused on a shared vision and shared goals with the very people we serve. Without the relationships built through our research at SIRC, the outcome with the Somali mother would not have been possible.” 

Top photo: Crista Johnson-Agbakwu meets with one of her patients at the Refugee Women's Health Clinic housed in Maricopa Integrated Health System.

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist , College of Public Service and Community Solutions