Nine UArizona students receive Centennial Achievement Awards
The annual awards recognize students' outstanding achievements and commitment to their community and families.

University Communications
Dec. 5, 2023

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a wildcat statue on campus at sunset
Chris Richards/University Communications

Nine students – two undergraduates and seven graduates – from a range of colleges have received the University of Arizona's 2023 Centennial Achievement Awards.

The annual awards, established in 1984, recognize undergraduates who have demonstrated integrity, persistence and a commitment to their communities and families. Since 1987, the awards have also recognized graduate students for their outstanding achievements and contributions.

The undergraduate awardees receive a $250 stipend; the graduate awardees receive $500. All awardees also receive an engraved plaque.

This year's Centennial Achievement Award winners are:

Undergraduate awardees

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Grayson Agrella
Grayson Agrella

Grayson Agrella
B.A., Art History, B.A., Anthropology, and B.A., French

Agrella was born and raised in Tucson and grappled with institutional and personal obstacles in pursuit of his degrees. He is engaged with the queer and artistic scenes around town and has worked with trans and gender-expansive youth. He has also served as an editor for a local literary magazine and processed U.S. passport applications, and he currently works in the archives department at the UArizona Center for Creative Photography. He regularly engages with mutual aid efforts, including those benefiting the unhoused community and other social justice causes.

Agrella aims to diversify the visible narratives around transgender people and their experiences. His current projects include an investigation of transgender art and the politics of visibility, as well as an analysis of conversations in media about transness and detransitioners. Intersectionality, including the disparity in transgender experiences across race and socioeconomic lines, drives all of his research and projects. This reflects both his personal experience and the anthropological imperative to understand his own privileges.

Agrella is a National Merit Finalist, and has made the Dean's List with Distinction, as well as Academic Year with Highest Distinction, numerous times. Agrella is set to graduate summa cum laude with honors in the spring. He plans to pursue graduate studies in queer anthropology while engaging with the needs of local trans and gender-expansive cohorts.

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Emily Wright
Emily Wright Chris Richards/University Communications

Emily Wright
B.A., Religious Studies, and B.A., Journalism

Wright grew up in Gilbert, Arizona, where she observed a pious population from up close and became consumed learning about people's belief systems and the institutions that house them. This, combined with Wright's continued interest in writing and activism, spawned her love for journalism.

After losing her mother to cancer in 2021, she deferred a semester for bereavement. She has worked as a teaching assistant in the School of Journalism, as outreach coordinator and a counselor with Bear Down Camp, been involved with the local Deaf community, interned for a clean-energy nonprofit, and volunteered for several campus organizations and units. Wright also studied abroad in Orvieto, Italy.

Wright has been awarded Dean's List with Distinction, was named a Drew Gyorke Memorial Photojournalism Contest Finalist, was selected for the Finley Best Beginning News Writing Competition and won the Arizona in Italy Summer 2023 Video Contest. Wright is expected to graduate summa cum laude. Following her graduation, she will pursue graduate studies in religion, gender, sexuality and ecology. She also plans to continue long-form feature writing and photojournalism.

Graduate awardees

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Brianna Billingsley
Brianna Billingsley Chris Richards/University Communications

Brianna Billingsley
Doctorate, Physics

Billingsley is a first-generation college student from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Despite experiencing gender prejudices in science, technology, engineering and math and seeing a lack of female representation in her physics classes, Billingsley ultimately realized her love for the field. She has since been heavily involved in advocating for the representation and retention of women and under-represented minorities in STEM through community outreach, research and mentoring.

Billingsley graduated with a bachelor's degree in physics with minors in Chinese and mathematics from Washington & Jefferson College in 2021. She received a UArizona University Fellows Award in her first year of graduate study, and later received the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship in 2023. Billingsley studies experimental condensed matter physics under the advisement of assistant professor of physics Tai Kong.

Growing up in poverty as a child of deaf adults and attending underfunded public schools have shaped Billingsley's perspective on cultural sensitivity and inclusion. These experiences also have strengthened her drive for representation and diversity. 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. After graduation, Billingsley hopes to continue her research and advocacy for those who have been historically left behind in science.

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Elia Hilda Bueno
Elia Hilda Bueno Chris Richards/University Communications

Elia Hilda Bueno
Doctorate, Human Development and Family Science

Bueno is a native of the border city of Laredo, Texas. As a first-generation college student and the first-born child of Mexican immigrants, Bueno experienced difficulties with learning a new language and culturally integrating into the American education system. But her love for her culture and learning has been a driving force for her academic success. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and Master of Arts in psychological research at Texas State University.

Bueno has more than four years of community outreach experience working with predominantly Latino populations in low-resourced areas in the mental health and education sectors. As an elementary school educator, Bueno became amazed at the resiliency that Latino families showed to support their children's education. She also fostered meaningful relationships and worked with families to support students' learning. Bueno's dissertation studies how Latino families support Latina girls' beliefs and persistence in STEM majors.

Bueno's awards 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 UArizona Parent and Family Newsletter. After graduation, Bueno hopes to find a career where she can harness research, evaluation and practice through community-engaged approaches to education and STEM.

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Molly Rose Case
Molly Rose Case

Molly Rose Case
Juris Doctor

Case is a third-year student in the James E. Rogers College of Law. Originally from Sudbury, Massachusetts, Case earned her undergraduate degree in economics from Reed College in Portland. After college, she spent nearly 10 years working in the nonprofit sector, primarily in the international water and sanitation context. Her first professional position brought her to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she worked with a small organization developing affordable ecological sanitation services for densely populated urban communities.

During the initial COVID-19 lockdown, Case decided it was time for a new professional challenge, and settled on law school. Case has since focused on developing strong legal research and writing skills, but what she loves most is working collaboratively with other members of the law school community. In addition to serving as a classroom writing fellow supporting first-year legal writing students, Case has been a Supreme Court teaching fellow, working with another law student to lead weekly discussion sessions for students in an undergraduate law course. She is currently serving as a senior writing fellow and the senior articles editor of Arizona Law Review, the law school's flagship journal.

Case is the recipient of the Barbara A. Atwood Scholarship. After law school, she will spend a year clerking at the Arizona Supreme Court before pursuing further academic opportunities.

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Gerardo Figueroa
Gerardo Figueroa Chris Richards/University Communications

Gerardo Figueroa
Doctorate, Biomedical Engineering

Born and raised in Mexico, Figueroa and his family immigrated in 2007 to San Luis, Arizona, a small border town in Yuma County. He is part of the Orthopedics Biomaterials Laboratory, led by Dr. David Margolis, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery in the College of Medicine – Tucson. Figueroa graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering from UArizona in 2021.

Figueroa's research focuses on developing bone tissue engineering technologies and using electronics for long-term monitoring of bone health. As an undergraduate, he participated in several national fellowship programs. His work has been presented in professional organizations such as the Society for Biomaterials and the Orthopaedic Research Society. Figueroa is deeply passionate about STEM outreach, especially for rural communities and underrepresented minorities. After graduating in 2021, he returned to his hometown to teach engineering at a summer camp. Figueroa also is involved in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, working with a program aimed at helping parents of first-generation engineering students understand the culture and life changes associated with their child starting college.

Figueroa plans 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.

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Hyeonchang "Kay" Gim
Hyeonchang "Kay" Gim

Hyeonchang "Kay" Gim
Doctorate, Communication

Growing up in South Korea, Gim 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.

Gim has dedicated himself to fostering relationships between people from diverse social backgrounds. With this objective, he has published seven research articles in various communication journals. His work has been recognized with multiple awards, fellowships and grants, including from the National Communication Association and International Communication Association. Gim also is committed to creating inclusive and engaging learning environments as an educator. He is chair of the Department of Communication's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, and a member of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences' Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council. Gim also volunteers for various community-based projects, such as hosting lecture series and music performances for older adults. 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, Gim aims to become a professor of communication.

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Abigael McGuire
Abigael McGuire Chris Richards/University Communications

Abigael McGuire
Juris Doctor

McGuire is from Ephrata, Washington, and holds a Bachelor of Arts in business administration from Washington State University. Before enrolling at the College of Law, McGuire worked at Boeing and Pinterest.

McGuire decided to attend law school after witnessing the power lawyers have to use legal rules, compassion and empathy to advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. She is dedicated to doing the same for survivors in her own career. McGuire received a Centennial Achievement Award based on her demonstration of passion for serving survivors and uplifting marginalized voices – especially those of women of color, LGBTQ+ people, and low-income women and families.

As a student member of the Domestic Violence Law Clinic, McGuire provided direct legal services to survivors, including representation at hearings for orders of protection and advice on custody, child support, housing and immigration issues. She has also been a dedicated student leader in Innovation for Justice, a program that designs, builds and tests solutions to increase access to justice. Through Innovation for Justice, McGuire supports a project that advances alternative models of legal representation for domestic violence survivors.

McGuire has interned for the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women, as well as for the U.S. Senate and the Pima County Attorney's Office. She also served as president of the Law Women's Association at the James E. Rogers College of Law. After graduating from law school, McGuire will continue to use existing legal tools – and perhaps develop new ones – to advocate for, empower and serve survivors.

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Yuhyun Park
Yuhyun Park Chris Richards/University Communications

Yuhyun Park
Doctorate, Counselor Education and Supervision

A native of Seoul, South Korea, Park began his doctoral journey in the fall of 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. He faced unprecedented obstacles, pushing through uncertainty and rapidly changing circumstances, and eventually returned home to complete two years of coursework remotely. This situation was a challenge not only because of a 14-hour time difference, but also because it inadvertently curtailed his immediate engagement in networking, research, teaching and other professional services.

Such challenges crystallized Park's dedication to the field, emphasizing the importance of mental health support in turbulent times and resulting in his research into how the pandemic impacted higher education in East Asia. After returning to the U.S. in 2022, Park has taken on many leadership roles. He served on the Faculty Search Committee for Sensory Disabilities in Special Education and has reviewed grants for the Graduate and Professional Student Council.

Beyond academia, Yuhyun led the Kimchitaka Football Club as its captain and served at Heaven's Touch, First United Methodist Church, extending compassion through meal provisions and haircut services for the homeless. After he graduates in the spring, Park hopes to become a professor in clinical mental health.

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