Criminal justice student wins 2014 MLK Student Leadership Award

November 13, 2013

Gabriel Cesar, a doctoral student in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University, has been awarded the 2014 Martin Luther King, Jr. Student-Leadership Award for his active work with foster children in the Free Arts of Arizona program.  

The Detroit native was raised by his grandfather, a union worker, who helped him to understand the sometimes-harsh reality of life from a very early age. Download Full Image

“He would bring me with him to the bars and ball games," Cesar said. "There were people from all different backgrounds and races. It exposed to me a lot, but he was honest with me and contextualized it in a way that I could understand. The most important thing he would instill in me was that you take care of the people around you.”

Cesar transferred to ASU after earning an associate’s degree from Henry Ford Community College and completing two years of his bachelor’s degree at Wayne State University.

“Wayne State gave me good practice-based learning. The courses were taught by cops, so we had interrogation classes and learned all about the consent decree. ASU has a very strong theoretical program that has empowered me to learn about the social process. We’re also strongly encouraged to get involved in functional research,” he said.

As a master’s student at ASU, Cesar wanted to step out of the box and focus on qualitative research that looks at social learning among young people who are aging out of the Child Protective Services system. Mentor Travis Pratt, a criminology and criminal justice professor, was supportive of the bold move that went against the quantitative type of research normally completed by students.

“He said that he doesn’t know how to measure it, but he would know if it sucked. I’ve always had strong ideas and that has never been feared or discouraged here,” said Cesar.

The research didn’t quite go as he planned though. His intent was to learn about the children's role models and who they modeled their behavior after, in order to find factors that would determine whether they transition into successful adults. But the children he worked with reported they didn't have anyone to look up to; rather than role models, what mattered to them was having a stable place to go when they phase out and a way to pay their bills.

Like any good researcher, Cesar adjusted his research, but the experience stuck with him. Heeding his grandfather’s teachings, he began volunteering with Free Arts of Arizona, a nonprofit organization that provides an artistic outlet for youth in the foster care system.

“When you’re a kid in the system, no one is uniquely interested in you," he said. "You’re in a group home with 10 to 12 other kids. No one is making you go to school or is in charge of your well-being. The caseworkers try their best, but it isn’t always enough.” 

To combat this, he spends what little free time he has making sure they stay on track toward getting their high school diploma and college education. He even brought a group of mentees to his Hispanic Convocation when he earned his master’s degree from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

“I wanted to take them to campus to meet the faculty here to see what’s possible. They make jokes about being Hispanic and poor, so when you take them to convocation they can see all of these Hispanic people who are successful. There’s no excuse,” he said.

Cesar also uses his own experiences to relate to them. He teaches them the importance of taking both positive and negative experiences and turning them into lessons that will shape them into adults.

“We forget that everyone on some level is just a scared kid like them. We all just want someone to care of us. Free Arts has been great with letting me grow into the mentor inside of me,” he said.

Next on his plate is completing his dissertation that focuses on the implementation and funding of programs to better care for students in CPS like Free Arts. Cesar says he eventually would like to return to Michigan to help the community that raised him.

Earning the MLK Leadership Award will allow Cesar to show faculty and students this type of research is emerging in the criminal justice field. And, of course, his grandfather will proudly be in attendance at the MLK Breakfast Celebration in January at the Downtown Phoenix campus.

Throw your arms up – literally – for 'Evita'

November 13, 2013

Former Sun Devil returns to Gammage for Broadway musical tour

This holiday season, a classic is coming to ASU Gammage. Download Full Image

A story of one woman's rise to power, fortune and fame, the award-winning musical "Evita" is slated for afternoon and evening performances, Dec. 3-8.

Brought to life by the music of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, "Evita" is the incredible story of Eva Perón, the First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952. 

Striking dualities characterized Perón's rise to power. Although she was a champion for the poor, she was prone to greed. A beautiful and charismatic figure, Perón led one of the most corrupt administrations in history with her husband, Argentine President Juan Perón. 

Eva Perón's captivating character and life, set to a beautiful musical score, is the magic behind the acclaimed Broadway show, now more than 35 years old. 

This year's stunning new production of "Evita" features former Sun Devil Krystina Alabado, a member of the show's ensemble who also was cast in the role of Juan Perón's mistress. 

"I am so happy to be playing this role," says Alabado, who will be returning to Gammage for her third Broadway tour. The tour marks the first time she will get to perform her own song on stage: "Another Suitcase in Another Hall." To snag the role, she had to audition nine times.  

"Auditioning is never really over, even when it's over," she says. "You get used to rejection. You develop a thick skin."

Alabado got her break five years ago while studying musical theater and acting in the School of Theatre and Film, in ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. During her second semester, she learned about an open call for the first national tour of what was then a new Broadway hit musical: "Spring Awakening." 

"My mom flew me to Boston for the audition," recalls Alabado, who says she never hesitated dropping everything to follow her dream. "It was my end goal. That was the best decision I ever made because I got my Broadway debut shortly thereafter."

The actress has been busy ever since, appearing in a number of roles on Broadway and starring in some off-Broadway acclaimed productions as well. She also appears as the fresh face in the most recent Neutrogena commercial for MTV. 

She says that although she was a newcomer to "Evita," her introduction to the show made the rehearsal process all the more exciting.

"I had never seen the show or knew much about it," she says. "I knew the famous songs, but I didn't have much of a relationship with the show, so it felt truly brand new to me. Going into something with no pre-knowledge made for a wonderful rehearsal/discovery process." 

No longer a Broadway rookie, Alabado immediately looks for ASU Gammage the moment she receives her tour schedule. 

"Gammage is where I found the passion and excitement to do this – it's where I grew up seeing shows with my family, so it is always the most exciting thing to come back to Arizona. I feel so taken care of and blessed to have Gammage and Arizona as my home."

To see Alabado perform in "Evita," Dec. 3-8, or to learn more about the show, visit the Gammage box office

And if you're looking to let your star quality shine, then go ahead and Evita yourself by throwing your arms up in the air like Evita did on the balcony of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires before thousands of people.

Don't worry – no one expects you to sing.

Britt Lewis

Interim Communications Director, ASU Library