2023 Centennial Achievement Doctorate Degree Awards
During the fall of 1987, the Graduate College and the Division of Campus Life established awards to recognize outstanding achievement and contributions of graduate students at the University of Arizona who have shown academic achievement despite facing challenging social, economic, or educational obstacles. Beginning in 2018, due to the philanthropic commitment of past Master’s Award recipient, Dr. William Broussard (MA, ‘02, and Ph.D., ‘07—Rhetoric, Composition, and the Teaching of the English Language) six graduate students were awarded the Centennial Awards. Through Dr. Broussard’s continued benevolence, starting in 2022 seven recipients will be selected and awarded the Centennial Award.
Brianna Billingsley is a first-generation college student from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and a doctoral student in Physics. Although initially deterred from physics due to experiencing gender prejudices in STEM and a lack of female representation in her physics classes she was ultimately able to realize her love for the field. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics with minors in Chinese and Mathematics in 2021, at Washington & Jefferson College. Since undergrad, she has been heavily involved in advocating for the representation and retention of women and under-represented minorities in STEM through community outreach, physics pedagogy research, and mentoring.
At the University of Arizona, Brianna received the University Fellowship in her first year of graduate study in 2021, and later received the NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship in 2023. She currently serves as the Mentor Chair and the Vice-President of Physicists for Inclusion and Equity. In Tucson, she has been a tutor for K-12 children and an annual volunteer for Tucson Deaf Awareness Week, utilizing her upbringing as a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), her bilingual fluency in American Sign Language, and her passion for advocacy in and through education.
Her experiences growing up in poverty, attending underfunded public schools, and experiencing the duality of deaf and hearing culture first-hand, have shaped her perspective on cultural sensitivity and inclusion. This has also strengthened her drive for representation and diversity on all scales. She’s extremely grateful for the scholarships and awards she has received that have allowed her to pursue higher education, study around the world, and gain experiences otherwise not available to her.
Brianna currently studies experimental condensed matter physics, and specifically researches frustrated magnetic systems through the synthesis and characterization of novel materials with Archimedean lattice types, under the advisement of Dr. Tai Kong. After graduation, she hopes to continue research in physics, while continuing to strive for increased opportunity for those who have been historically left behind in science.
Elia Hilda Bueno is a doctoral candidate in Human Development and Family Science at the University of Arizona. Elia is proud of being born and raised in the border city of Laredo, Texas. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Master of Arts in Psychological Research at Texas State University. As a first-generation college student and the first-born child of Mexican immigrants, she experienced difficulties with learning a new language, and culturally integrating into the American education system. Yet, her love for her culture and learning has been a driving force for her academic success.
Elia has over four years of community outreach experience working with predominantly Latina/o/x populations in low-resourced areas in the mental health and education sector. Her experiences as an elementary school teacher laid the foundation for her current research and career interests. As an educator, Elia became amazed at the resiliency that Latina/o/x families showed to support their children’s educational journey. In this role, she fostered meaningful relationships and worked with families to support students’ learning.
Given her teaching and scholarly commitment, she has been the recipient of numerous highly competitive awards at the local, national, and international level. These include the American Evaluation Association Graduate Education Diversity Intern Scholarship and the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement Graduate Fellowship. She continues to bridge her academic and community outreach background through peer-reviewed publications, conference presentations, and the UAZ’s Parent and Family Newsletter.
Driven by her own personal experiences, her dissertation is focused on studying how Latina/o/x families support Latina girls’ beliefs and persistence in STEM majors. In her own work, she acknowledges the multiple ways Latina/o/x families showcase their social and cultural assets to promote Latina girls’ and adults’ STEM achievements despite the barriers they are vulnerable to. After graduation, Elia is interested in obtaining a career where she can harness research, evaluation, and practice through community-engaged approaches in the education and STEM setting.
Gerardo Figueroa is a third-year Ph.D. student in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Arizona. Born and raised in Mexico, his family immigrated to San Luis, Arizona in 2007, a small border town community that he now proudly calls his hometown. He is part of the Orthopedics Biomaterials Laboratory, advised by Dr. David Margolis from the Orthopedic Surgery Department in the College of Medicine. Before his graduate studies, he graduated cum laude with a B.S. degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Arizona in 2021.
Gerardo’s research focuses on developing bone tissue engineering technologies and using osseosurface electronics for long-term monitoring of bone health. As an undergraduate, he participated in several nationally recognized programs such as the Ronald E. McNair Achievement and the Arizona/NASA Space Grant. His work has been presented in professional organizations such as the Society for Biomaterials and the Orthopedic Research Society.
Along with his research, Gerardo is deeply passionate about STEM outreach, especially for rural communities and underrepresented minorities. He was involved with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers UAZ chapter during his undergraduate career. Here he held the position of Science Day VP during the 2020-2021 academic year. After graduating in 2021, Gerardo returned to his hometown to teach engineering in the Advanced Math and STEM Summer Camp at the Gadsden Elementary School District. Now, Gerardo continues to be involved in SHPE, working in the Equipando Padres University program, a program aimed at helping parents of first-generation engineering students understand the culture and life changes associated with their child starting college.
After graduation, Gerardo plans on continuing his academic career to become a tenure-track professor at a research-intensive university. He hopes to build a strong team to conduct cutting-edge biomedical research and a collaborative culture dedicated to meaningful mentorship and STEM outreach.
Hyeonchang "Kay" Gim
Hyeonchang "Kay" Gim is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Communication at the University of Arizona earning his Ph.D. in Communication and Ph.D. minor in Computational Linguistics. Growing up in South Korea, he initially believed that higher education was beyond his reach due to the lack of educational role models in his family. However, during his military service, he came to understand the critical importance of effective communication, which inspired him to pursue higher education as a first-generation college student.
Throughout his academic journey, Kay has dedicated himself to fostering harmonious relationships between people from diverse social backgrounds, such as different racial and cultural groups. With this objective, he has published seven research articles in various communication journals. His work has been recognized with multiple Top Paper awards at the National Communication Association and International Communication Association. Kay has also received numerous fellowships and grants from sources such as the UA Foundation, UAZ Graduate & Professional Student Council, UAZ Department of Communication, and International Communication Association.
Echoing his research efforts, Kay is committed to creating inclusive and engaging learning environments as an educator. He has completed training through the UAZ College Teaching Certificate Program and actively participates in Project FOCUS, a teaching program tailored to neurodiverse students. Furthermore, he holds a leadership role as the chair of the DEI committee within his department, and serves as a DEI council member for the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences, where he contributes to the university-wide mission of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion values. Outside of the university, Kay volunteers for various community-based projects. This includes hosting lecture series and music performances for older adults, that primarily focus on how music can foster harmonious community relationships. As the early scholar representative for the International Communication Association, he ensures that the voices of early scholars are recognized and heard within the academic community.
After graduating from the University of Arizona, Kay aims to continue his holistic approach to making a positive impact on society through research, teaching, and service as a professor of Communication.
Yuhyun Park, a native of Seoul, South Korea, is a doctoral candidate in Counselor Education and Supervision with a minor in Higher Education. Yuhyun began his doctoral journey in the Fall of 2020, a time that simultaneously marked the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yuhyun faced unprecedented obstacles, pushing through uncertainty and rapidly changing circumstances. Consequently, he went back home and completed two years of his coursework remotely from South Korea. This situation was a challenge not only because of a 14-hour time difference, but also it inadvertently curtailed his immediate engagement in networking, research, teaching, and other professional services.
Such challenges crystallized Yuhyun's dedication to the field, emphasizing the importance of mental health support in turbulent times, resulting in his recent research, Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Impacts on Higher Education in East Asia. An examination of his CV will indicate that a significant portion of his refereed presentations, accolades, grants, committee assignments, and outreach efforts materialized post-2021. For instance, within a span of five months, he participated in six international and national conferences, delivering eight presentations.
As he came back to the US in 2022, Yuhyun's leadership was evident in numerous roles. Yuhyun's commitment to enhancing university affairs was further exemplified by serving on the Faculty Search Committee for Sensory Disabilities in Special Education, and reviewing grants for the Graduate & Professional Student Council. Concurrently, he volunteered at the University's 2023 Spring Commencement, illustrating his dedication to the academic community.
Beyond academia, Yuhyun led the Kimchitaka Football Club as its captain and altruistically served at Heaven’s Touch, First United Methodist Church, extending compassion through meal provisions and haircut services for the homeless.
After graduating from the University of Arizona in Spring 2024, Yuhyun hopes to continue this work and begin his career as a professor in Clinical Mental Health.