Fulbright scholar used her narrative to be an ally to the undocumented community

May 19, 2020

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

Berenice Pelayo has always been passionate about immigration policies and the undocumented community.  Berenice Pelayo in front of the WP Carey Business School in her cap and gown Berenice Pelayo Download Full Image

Growing up in a household with mixed immigration status allowed her to understand the hardship that immigrant families can experience. The 23-year-old Arizona native graduated last week with a degree in business law from the W. P. Carey School of Business and Barrett, The Honors College

During her time at Arizona State University, Pelayo was a student specialist for DREAMzone, an on-campus resource for the ASU community in support of undocumented, DACA students and students with families of mixed immigration status. Here she was able to help students with scholarships, DACA renewal forms and any questions regarding the transition to ASU. 

“I just want to be an ally, knowing that I am privileged to have been born here and that not all people have that same advantage. Undocumented students face many challenges related to their immigration status inside and outside of the classroom, which makes attaining a higher education increasingly difficult. That’s why I wanted to work with DREAMzone. I have met so many resilient and inspiring fellow students through my job. ,” Pelayo said. 

Being a transfer student from Central Arizona College did not stop her from getting the full Sun Devil experience. Pelayo was a Devils’ Advocate, giving school tours. She was also the president of the Global Council of Diplomats, which focused on bridging the gap between domestic and international students. 

Her final achievement as a Sun Devil was earning a Fulbright scholarship to Mexico City, where she is set to depart in January. 

“Walking through the Barrett hallways, you see all the photos of the students who have gone to different places through different scholarships. I thought that it would be so cool to be on that wall. So it’s kind of full circle now. I’m definitely so excited and so grateful that I got it,” Pelayo said. 

Pelayo will spend nine months abroad through the Fulbright Garcia-Robles Binational Business Internship. 

“I will be working for a Mexican or multinational company. The purpose is to gain business skills with a goal of creating mutual understanding between the private sectors of Mexico and the United States,” she said. 

She will also take business courses at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and will facilitate financial literacy classes for teens in public libraries or community centers. 

After graduation, Pelayo will start her new endeavor in the finance industry. As she graduated, she reflected on her time as a Sun Devil. 

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

Answer: My “aha” moment happened the semester going into my senior year. 

I changed my major so many times because I have so many interests. It was hard to choose! However, I have always been interested in the intersection between the law and business, therefore business law was a perfect fit.

I’m part of Program Excellence. Program Excellence is a Barrett program for students who are interested in pursuing a career in law or they’re just interested in learning more about the law, and it’s in conjunction with Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in Downtown Phoenix. 

So I’ve been able to take a law class with law students there. That’s been a really cool opportunity, one of my favorites through Barrett. The whole point of that was to let students see what it would be like to be in a law school. Although I am not planning on attending law school in the near future it has been an amazing opportunity to gain exposure to the environment and teaching practices of the Law College.

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

A: There are so many different types of students at ASU from around the world and different parts of the United States, and we’re all so diverse. We bring so many different qualities to ASU. But what’s interesting is that we’re all brought together in this huge community because we’re all pursuing an education and trying to better ourselves in some way. 

It is great to see how the ASU community comes together. Overall, the giving spirit of the ASU community is inspiring and has shown me that true success is when you do good and use it to help others to do even better.  

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I’ve always wanted to go to ASU. It’s never even been a doubt that I wanted to go anywhere else. My mom went to ASU, and I’ve always thought ASU is the greatest university. I just always wanted to go.

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

A: Anita Verdugo Tarango has taught me the importance of mentoring younger people. Just gaining experience that you can use to help other people. She's been a mentor, which is awesome because you know, she's successful in her career. She’s had a lot of life experience and then she also uses her position to help others. So that's inspiring to see. That’s something I would like to do once I have more of an established career to be able to help others find their way as well. 

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

A: Try new things. Just apply for things. With the Fulbright program, even though it’s something that really got my attention, I wasn’t sure if I should even apply. And there’s always that little bit of self-doubt. 

Like, should I even bother applying? Should I put that effort in or will I even get it if I do apply? But I think what is most important is just if it’s calling your name, just apply for it. Don’t tell yourself no. Just do it. And then if it happens, it happens and you never know where that will take you. 

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

A: My favorite spot has to be the Leadership Academy for business students. It’s great because they have free printing and computers, but free printing is a huge plus and it’s just a great space to get stuff done and also meet up with other students there. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: In June I am going to be starting my first full-time position working for a retail banking company. I’ll be starting in the finance industry, which I’m really excited to learn more about. 

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

A: To fund worldwide education so that every kid has an education. If a child is given the opportunity to learn and that environment to thrive, then subsequently the other problems that we face in the world would also be solved or diminished. Because that generation of educated kids around the world will then solve other problems like poverty and hunger. It’d be a trickle effect.

Written by Carmen De Alba Cardenas, Sun Devil Storyteller

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


ASU journalism students receive encouragement from prominent journalists during virtual ceremony

Cronkite School graduates heard messages from former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour and more

May 19, 2020

Arizona State University's 2020 Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication convocation was an event unlike any other in school history.

Instead of a single convocation speaker, 27 of the nation’s prominent journalists and communication professionals addressed the graduates through video messages, reminding them that their skills are needed more than ever during this unprecedented time. They included former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, ESPN host and commentator Michael Wilbon, PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff, former “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer, and CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour. Karenna Guzman Karenna Guzman (center) celebrates her graduation from the Cronkite School at home with her mother and father, Kristen and John Guzman. Download Full Image

Dozens of Cronkite faculty and staff also shared encouraging messages, well-wishes and career advice through recorded videos. And Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan stood in an empty First Amendment Forum to deliver his final commencement speech after 15 years at the school. The ceremony also featured more than 200 photos of students taken during their years at the Cronkite School.

Afterward, the students gathered in virtual Zoom rooms to spend time with some of their favorite professors as they reflected on their experiences at the Cronkite School.

The ceremony, held on May 12, marked the school's first virtual convocation, celebrating the accomplishments of more than 400 graduates. They, their families and friends joined the ceremony in real time on YouTube and Facebook Live. Views totaled more than 5,000 on Facebook and more than 2,000 on YouTube.

“Feeling super thankful for the special #CronkiteConvocation I was able to share with friends and family everywhere,” graduate Pauline Verbera posted on Twitter shortly after the ceremony.

“I celebrated my college graduation at home surrounded (at a safe distance) by the people I love. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my journey, from California to Phoenix to Miami. I am beyond blessed. Congratulations to the Class of 2020!” wrote graduate Danielle Malkin in a Twitter post.

Kristen Guzman, whose daughter Karenna was one of the Cronkite graduates, wrote, “You and your grad crew exceeded our expectations with the online graduation! Thank you for turning such a sad situation into a memorable event for my daughter. She was thrilled with it, which warmed our hearts!”

In their recorded messages to students, journalism professionals noted the unusual circumstances in which graduates find themselves and the challenges ahead.

“What a time to dive into the industry!” said ABC15 News anchor and Cronkite School alumna Katie Raml of Phoenix. “We need your fresh eyes right now and your creative spirit, and your excellent commitment to fabulous storytelling. We need that now more than ever.”

Woodruff reminded graduates that they are more uniquely prepared to enter journalism and communication careers than any other class in recent history.

“You are the rarest of all student journalists. The very fact that you’re graduating is part of the news story of a lifetime,” she said. “We as a nation and you, as the bright future of this nation, will not just get through, but you will flourish.”

Callahan lauded the graduates for persevering and exceeding expectations as the school transitioned to online learning in the midst of the pandemic.

“You faced the single biggest danger to our country since World War II, a threat that seemed to come up and hit us with no warning, and you took on the challenge in remarkable ways. You showed enormous adaptability, seemingly transitioning to remote learning in a matter of days,” said Callahan, who is leaving the Cronkite School this summer to assume the presidency of the University of the Pacific.

Of the more than 400 graduates, 354 received bachelor’s degrees, with 129 earning a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and mass communication and 72 earning a Bachelor of Arts in sports journalism. Thirty-seven students earned a Bachelor of Science in digital audiences degree, and 116 received a Bachelor of Arts in mass communication and media studies.

The Cronkite School also graduated 53 master’s degree students. Of those, 11 earned a Master of Journalism and Mass Communication, two received a Master of Arts in sports journalism, five a Master of Science in business journalism and 35 a Master of Science in digital audience strategy.

Student speaker Kara Harris reminded her classmates during the online ceremony about the importance of adaptability as they move into their careers.

“Just our very participating in this virtual ceremony really demonstrates the exact concept that I had to learn in every newsroom I’ve had the privilege of working in,” she said. “Be ready to adjust to changes — whether that’s covering breaking news or finding ourselves in the midst of a pandemic. We have to continuously show that we are ready for whatever life throws our way.”

Six students were named Outstanding Undergraduate Students, including Harris, and seven students received the ASU Alumni Association’s Moeur Award, which is presented to graduates with the highest academic standing who have completed their degrees.

In addition, 20 students were inducted into Kappa Tau Alpha, a national college honors society that recognizes academic excellence and promotes scholarship in journalism.

Here is the complete list of Cronkite student award winners:

ASU Alumni Association Outstanding Graduate
Ranjani Venkatakrishnan

Outstanding Undergraduate Students
Jennifer Alvarez
Marcus Xavier Chormicle
Derek Hall
Jack Harris
Kara Harris
Grace Oldham
Karisma Sandoval

Outstanding Graduate Student
Molly Duerig

Outstanding Journalism Dual-Degree Student
Marcella Baietto

Outstanding Undergraduate Online Student
Quinlyn Shaughnessy

Outstanding Graduate Online Student
Miranda Gaona

Highest Undergraduate Grade-Point Average
Katie Baker

Top Innovator Award
Jordan Evans

Highest Undergraduate Grade-Point Averages
Derek Hall
Grace Oldham

Cronkite Spirit Award
Scotty Gange
Mythili Gubbi
Leterance Thatch

ASU Alumni Association Moeur Award
Mythili Gubbi
Derek Hall
Caitlynn McDaniel
May Phan
Karisma Sandoval
Quinlyn Shaughnessy

Kappa Tau Alpha National Honor Society
Jennifer Alvarez
Marcella Baietto
Julia Bashaw
Loza Brook
Mythili Gubbi
Derek Hall
Kara Harris
Jonathan Hrkal
Nicole Ludden
Ellyson Lundberg
Caitlynn McDaniel
Alisa Murphy
Grace Oldham
Jenna Ortiz
Jessica Pauley
May Phan
Karisma Sandoval
Tara Schultz
Thomas Triolo
Jessica Zorker

Jamar Younger

Associate Editor, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication