Outstanding grad inspired to give independence to others with disabilities through recreation


May 5, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Rachel Dora-Ann Fisher never dreamed a disability that once interrupted her academic studies would lead to a fulfilling career helping others with similar challenges. ASU grad Rachel Dora-Ann Fisher School of Community Resources and Development outstanding grad Rachel Dora-Ann Fisher's advice to other students: "Don’t let anything hold you back, whether it’s income, being first-generation, being a parent, having a disability, being from out of state or out of the country, transferring here, or just thinking you can't make change. I have helped to make change and I am an adult transfer student, first-generation, single mom, low income, from out of state, and none of those labels mattered. You are seen by your fellow students as an ASU student. This is your family!" Download Full Image

Fisher, a first-generation college student from Cicero, a Chicago suburb, is the spring 2020 outstanding graduate of the School of Community Resources and Development (SCRD).

Upon arriving in Arizona eight years ago, she found that her already low vision was decreasing severely. Fisher was unable to find a job, leading her to conclude that she couldn’t do the work she had learned how to do as a college student in Illinois.

She transitioned to the Phoenix-based Foundation for Blind Children’s vocational rehabilitation program for adults to retrain in assistive technology and skills with vision loss. She planned to get a job and applied for her first guide dog.

When a career counselor asked her about her favorite previous job, she described her work in the West Suburban Special Recreation Association.

“It was my favorite job. I got to work with others with disabilities and mainly young adults with autism. It was fulfilling work I cherished. I kept a picture of one of my students from the program,” said Fisher.

“The ‘aha’ moment was when (the career counselor) told me it was recreational therapy I was doing, and that I could go to ASU to get a degree in the field. I knew at that moment it was what I was meant to do: to help give freedom and independence to other people with disabilities through recreation.”

ASU instructors were kind and understanding regarding her disability and helped arrange accommodations for her, which was key to her being able to be successful, she said.

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

Answer: I was surprised at how my professors and teachers cared about me as a person and as a student. I had a previous experience in a college in … Chicago where… (instructors told me) I would not get hired being visually impaired, and I only made it halfway through my senior year. The experience was horrific, and I thought I would never try to attend college ever again. Once the opportunity arose for me to go back to school and study recreational therapy at ASU, I was very timid and scared of what it would be like, (because) my previous teachers were not kind about my disability. The first semester here, my instructors were so kind and understanding and didn’t really see my visual impairment as a limitation to my abilities; they just saw it as the reason I needed some accommodations. I was treated like a whole person. I was so happy and surprised at how different my entire college experience has been, and their support and kindness has made me the student I am and given me the confidence to make change and be the person I want to be.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: It was the absolute best school to get my recreational therapy degree and on the downtown campus. Once I visited downtown, it gave me that city feel I missed from back in Chicago, but so relaxed. I had interviewed for an essay with (SCRD faculty associate) Beth Dietrich, and loved her perspective and knew she was going to be one of my instructors. All the working professionals in my field had come from ASU, so I knew where I wanted to go!

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: There is a TED Talk where a teacher explains what a lollipop moment is. It's when you do something that greatly impacts another person’s life without even knowing it. Kelly Ramella (an SCRD associate instructional professional and program coordinator) impacted my life in the first semester at ASU.

The first time I met her face to face, I was in her online class and struggling with making it accessible. We met to discuss it near the elevators in UCENT (University Center on the Downtown Phoenix campus). She looked at me and said, “We are going to figure out how to make you the best recreational therapist with your disability.”

It was the first time I had ever in my life had a teacher tell me that my disability could make me better in my field, that it could work for me and not against me. Over the past two years, she has continued to do just that and show me so many ways to be who I am: a recreational therapist who happens to also be visually impaired.

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

A: To get involved, don’t sit back, make this the college experience you have always wanted. I can say in my experiences here at ASU in student organizations, student leadership positions, working on campus, and in my classes and volunteer work I have done more than I ever imagined I could.

My first semester, I was very shy and reserved and talked to very few people. It was getting involved in my first student organization, fighting for a streetlight near Arizona Center, and getting a campus job. I then started to work in advocacy more and have never looked back.

Don’t let anything hold you back, whether it’s income, being first-generation, being a parent, having a disability, being from out of state or out of the country, transferring here, or just thinking you can't make change. I have helped to make change and I am an adult transfer student, first-generation, single mom, low income, from out of state, and none of those labels mattered. You are seen by your fellow students as an ASU student. This is your family! You are surrounded by supportive, loving and intelligent students from around the globe and varying backgrounds. You can make anything possible.

Q: As an on-campus student, what was your favorite spot to study or to just think about life?

A: I love to sit right in front of UCENT and my service/guide dog Austin sits right up there with me. Under the trees in the shade and looking at Civic Space park across the street.

I also enjoy sitting in front of Starbucks with Austin in the shade, me with a coffee or tea and him with his puppuccino.

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

A: I would create better programming with recreational therapy for students transitioning with disabilities from high school to college or work. So many students with disabilities become lost from high school to college without support or assistance. I was one of those students. I was told I would only be a telemarketer because that’s all someone with blindness in my low economic bracket could do. (Instead) I would get to go to college and better myself. This is exactly what these students are hearing as well.

I am applying to my master’s program to aid in this issue in Maryvale, where many students have no support from high school to college or work. We need to help our next generation to be happy, healthy and independent individuals, increasing their quality of life with support and programs for not just training on social skills, but career skills, and leisure education.

I may not have $40 million, but I will find a way to make it happen and be a changemaker.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

602-496-0001

Criminology outstanding grad has her 'aha' moment on visit to Arizona prison


May 5, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Genevieve McKenzie remembers the spring of her freshman year, when she questioned whether she made the right decision to major in criminology and criminal justice. ASU grad Genevieve McKenzie School of Criminology and Criminal Justice outstanding graduate Genevieve McKenzie advises students that you get out of your college experience what you put into it. "It is easy to drift through your time in college just doing the bare essentials to pass classes and graduate. It is harder to really be present in your classes and engage with the material, but it truly does pay off. When I started to apply what I was learning in the classroom to the outside world ... I started seeing connections everywhere." Download Full Image

But even more vivid in her memory is the day those doubts disappeared. It was the day she sat face-to-face in an Arizona prison with an incarcerated man dressed in an orange jumpsuit.

Both were members of a class that combines ASU students with an equal number of incarcerated men through the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program.

“I don’t remember the details of our conversation, but I do remember that being the moment when everything clicked for me,” McKenzie said. “All of a sudden, the people that I had been reading about in textbooks (each) had a face, a name, and I could see the real impact that what I was studying could have. Khan may not know it, but he is one of the biggest reasons that I am here today.” 

In fact, the spring 2020 outstanding graduate of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice said her favorite place to think about life is a barren stretch of highway between Phoenix and the Arizona State Prison Complex – Florence.

“Over the past four years, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time driving to and from the prison in Florence for class, research, work and volunteer work. I had some of the best conversations with colleagues or classmates in the car after a long day at the prison,” said the Snohomish, Washington, resident. “It took me a while to adjust to the desert landscape after moving from somewhere that it rains 85% of the time, but I grew to love the dramatic sunsets behind cacti as I drove along that highway, lost in deep thoughts.”

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

Answer: One of the most notable things that surprised me to learn while at ASU is something that I’m still learning to this day: Being productive and successful is about more than just hard work. Being productive requires time off, sleep and taking care of yourself just as much as it requires hard work. I spent many semesters working myself to the bone because I thought that I would be successful if I just worked hard enough. It is only recently, with the help and guidance of some incredible mentors, that I realized I am able to do more when I’m doing less. When I take on too many responsibilities, I do not adequately take care of myself and end up burning out quickly. As a result of the burnout, the quality of my work suffers. When I prioritize taking care of myself, I am better able to focus and dedicate energy to doing things well.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I initially chose to come to ASU because I was impressed by the quality of the criminology and criminal justice program, which I intended to study. I actually committed to ASU solely because of this; I never set foot in Arizona until my orientation, three months before my first semester. The endless opportunities and resources that I was able to take advantage of are why I stayed and continued to choose ASU, though. There were a few times that I seriously considered transferring and pursuing a different career, but I ultimately chose ASU time and time again because of the community I had found and the unique opportunities that I would not have found elsewhere. I felt that I had a lot of potential for growth and ASU was the perfect place for me to take advantage of that; I was absolutely right.

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Kevin Wright has, by far, been the most influential professor that I’ve met at ASU. He has taught me lessons about the value of mentorship, the power of embracing failure, and he single-handedly facilitated opportunities that pushed me to be more open-minded. One of the most powerful lessons, however, has been the importance of authenticity. I think that Dr. Wright teaches this without the intention to do so; he simply leads his life in an authentic way and inspires those around him to do the same. Dr. Wright is transparent in the way that he asserts his values and fearlessly lives up to them. He is authentic across all situations and with all audiences.

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

A: You get out of your college experience what you put into it. It is easy to drift through your time in college just doing the bare essentials to pass classes and graduate. It is harder to really be present in your classes and engage with the material, but it truly does pay off. When I started to apply what I was learning in the classroom to the outside world and to things that were more directly applicable to my own life, I started seeing connections everywhere. My most valuable experiences in college were outside of the classroom, but they would not have been possible if I hadn’t pushed myself to get as much out of each class as possible, to venture out of my comfort zone and to get involved in different opportunities that were presented to me.

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

A: I would put the money towards the coronavirus pandemic that is happening worldwide right now. Specifically, I would invest the money towards efforts coming up with a vaccine so that people can stay healthy and health care workers can recuperate from the madness of the past few weeks. This pandemic is negatively affecting mental health, financial stability, physical health and so much more for everyone. I would say that it has also opened our eyes to the importance of social, human connection, and I think that everyone is really craving to get back to that. I know I am.

Another reason, which hits closer to home, is so that graduations for high school and college seniors throughout the country can proceed as originally planned. There are very few rites of passage or cultural ceremonies in America that mark critical transitions in our lives; school graduations are one of the only ones that come to mind. To universities, a virtual graduation for one semester may just be a bump in the road that is soon forgotten about. But to thousands of graduates, the absence of a graduation in the traditional sense is a gaping hole in our transition to adulthood. This important ceremony celebrates all of our hard work and accomplishments. The alternatives, including virtual graduation and combined ceremonies in the fall, simply do not measure up.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

602-496-0001