Winter Commencement Recognizes Student Achievement
Awards will recognize students who have demonstrated integrity, overcome enormous challenges to achieve a college education and made a contribution to self, community and family.

Rebecca Ruiz-McGill
Dec. 15, 2011

University of Arizona Centennial Achievement Awards will be presented at the Winter Commencement ceremony on Dec. 17 to the University's outstanding students.

The Centennial Achievement Awards were established in December 1984 by the UA Division of Student Affairs. These awards recognize students who will graduate within the academic year and who have demonstrated integrity, overcome enormous challenges to achieve a college education and made a contribution to self, community and family.

Total of six students will be recognized during the ceremony.

Undergraduate awardees include:

Dylan Moriarty

Moriarty will graduate with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering.

He grew up on the Navajo Nation and attributes most of his success to his mother. He attended St. Michael's Indian School and was awarded the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which allowed him to attend the UA.

Moriarty has worked for the Office of Early Academic Outreach, whose mission is to increase the number of ethnic minority, low-income and first-generation college-bound students, since his freshman year.

As a junior, he was accepted into the Ronald E. McNair Achievement program, which strives to prepare underrepresented students for doctoral programs through undergraduate research, and he became hooked on research, presenting his work at multiple conferences.

During the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science conference, he noticed the many young scientists of ethnic minority in attendance. Inspired by the immense potential seen in underrepresented students there, he realized there was much work to be done to bring more students of similar backgrounds into the sciences. He returned to the UA and helped revitalize the local society chapter and now is chapter president with plans to firmly reestablish the organization before he graduates.

He was awarded the Native American Freshman and Undergraduate of the Year awards in 2008 and 2011 by the UA's Native American Student Affairs. He also has maintained an overall GPA of 3.57 and holds a 3.87 within his major.

After graduation, Moriarty plans to pursue a master's/doctorate program in energy resources engineering with the hope of creating clean sources of energy on tribal lands.

Ella Starobinska   

Starobinska will graduate from the Honors College with degrees in physiology and Russian and Slavic studies and minors in chemistry and molecular and cellular biology.

At the age of 15, she immigrated to the U.S. with her family as a result of strong anti-semitism in the Ukraine. She participated in the Ukrainian Orange Revolution that took place as a result of a corrupt election. She joined the ranks of the protesters in the fight for the fair and democratic elections. However, with the escalating nationalism and ideology of "Ukraine for Ukrainians," her family sought refuge in the U.S.

Immigration was a very difficult experience for her family. In addition to learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture, the family had to start over completely. Her father, an aeronautic engineer, worked with radioactive equipment and retired early because of health-associated risks of his profession. Her mother spent 35 years as a high school biology and chemistry teacher and was in retirement before their immigration. Her parents, who had lived off their retirement pension, were denied their pensions upon immigrating.

She realized that a key to a productive life lies in a person's health. That is why she seeks to make a difference by becoming a doctor.

Her passion for helping others is evident in her volunteer work at Tu Nidito, an organization that provides individual and group support to children and adults whose lives have been impacted by serious medical conditions or grief associated with a loss of a relative. As a group leader and a camp counselor, she provides children with emotional support.

She also has gained clinical experience by working at the Odyssey Hospice, where she fed, changed and washed patients while providing them with companionship and friendship.

Starobinska's love of science led to an opportunity to conduct cardiovascular research in the laboratory of Dr. Brad Davidson. The research is critical for the development of new diagnostic tests and therapeutics for congenital heart disease.

Master's degrees awardees include:

Denise Garcia

Garcia, a first-generation graduate student, will graduate with a Master's of Science in ecology and management of rangelands from the UA's School of Natural Resources and the Environment. She is working in conjunction with the Arizona Bureau of Land Management and the Gila Watershed Partnership in assessing land cover change of Southeastern Arizona.

Garcia, a native of Albuquerque, N.M., began her undergraduate education in 2006 in the International Studies program at the UA. Through the undergraduate program, she obtained a background in the political, economic and social aspects of sustainable development. During this time, she took the opportunity to tutor refugees and become a student coordinator of the Honors Civic Engagement Teams Internship Program.

As a freshman, she founded the UA's first Mexican folklórico student club, and remains an active mentor in the group today. During the summer of 2008, the National Association of Colleges and Universities granted Garcia the special opportunity to intern at the National Institutes of Health as a Spanish medical interpreter.

In 2009, she participated in the UA Summer Research Institute's Internship Program to explore ecological and hydrologic processes in rangelands. She continued this research for the 2009-10 school year as an intern in the NASA Space Grant Undergraduate Research Internship program. These experiences sparked her interest in how humans interact with the their environment, which became the basis of her honors thesis, "The Interrelationship of Local and Global Events and the Changing Ecological and Socio-economic States of the Sierra Tarahumara in Chihuahua, Mexico."

She has been the recipient of several awards, including the National Hispanic Scholars Award Scholarship, the UA Hispanic Alumni Scholarship, the Dick Roberts Memorial Scholarship, the Guié Scholarship and the Pillars of Excellence Award. As a graduate student, she has received the Diversity Fellowship and the Graduate Access Fellowship.

After graduation, Garcia hopes to pursue a doctorate degree and join the Peace Corps, and professionally, her interests are focused in the local efforts of sustainable management of the environment in Northern Mexico.

Shannon Corkery

Corkery plans to graduate with a doctorate in family studies and human development in 2013. Her doctoral research goals stem from master's work that focused on relational processes within couples and in particular the formation, maintenance and dimensions of relational commitment.

She is from Voorhees, N.J. and completed her undergraduate education at Pennsylvania State University where she completed Bachelor in Science degrees in human development and family studies and in biological and evolutionary psychology in May 2008.

Corkery first became involved in research when she worked as an undergraduate research assistant examining the university life experiences of undergraduate students. Since coming the UA in August 2008, Corkery has collaborated on projects with several faculty members as well as presented her work at several national conferences as well as been published in peer reviewed journals.

Corkery enjoys her role as an educator at the UA. She has served as a teaching assistant with a variety of courses across her graduate career, as well as instructed several online courses and been actively involved in course development and quality control efforts with regard to online education. For her dedication to and excellence in teaching, in 2011 she received the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Meritorious Award for Graduate Teaching and the Graduate and Professional Student Organization Achievement Award for Outstanding Teaching.

Shannon is president of the Family Studies Graduate Student Group; serves as the advisor to the undergraduate research honorary, Moving Research Into Practice; and is part of a team working on a grant for Campus Health from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to educate students about suicide and depression on campus. She also works as a teaching and research assistant and advises undergraduate research students. 

Upon completion of her degree at the UA, Corkery would like to remain in the higher education arena and continue work on her research as well as educate.

Doctorate degree awardees include:  

Ashley Randall

Randall is expected to graduate with a doctorate in family studies and human development, with a double minor in clinical psychology and counseling and guidance from the UA in May 2012. Ashley's dissertation focuses on if and how partners are emotionally linked and connected (emotional synchrony) and whether this relationship is affected by attachment styles, culture and engaging in coping.

Originally from Cincinnati, Randall completed a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Indiana University and received a Master's of Science degree in clinical psychology from North Dakota State University.

She was the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, where she studied at the Institute for Family Research in Counseling in Fribourg, Switzerland. She studied the role that stress and coping has on couples. She has continued her program of research at the UA, where she has presented more than 20 conference presentations and has published in top-tier journals on the topics of stress and couple's emotional linkage, as well as in international books written in both English and Italian.

She has worked as a research associate for both the Division of Family Studies and Human Development and the Department of Psychology at the UA. Last year, she was named Outstanding Research Assistant, awarded by the UA Graduate Student and Professional Council. She also has taught a number of live and online courses in family studies and human development, and she consistently receives high teaching evaluations.

Randall has served as the graduate studies representative for family studies and human development. Additionally, she is an ad-hoc reviewer for scholarly journals in the field of romantic relationships.

Currently, she serves as an executive board member and program director of the Couple's Corner, a part of the The Magis Foundation in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting mental health awareness and education. Last year, she self-directed a needs assessment team to assess couple's programming needs in the Tucson community and is in the planning stages of developing a program to meet their needs.

Upon completion of her doctorate degree, she plans on continuing her education so that she may obtain clinical licensure in the state of Arizona. The licensure is necessary to achieve her goal of opening a Couple's Research Center, so that she may better the lives of individuals, couples and families.

Aja Y. Martinez

Martinez will graduate with a doctorate in rhetoric, composition and the teaching of English in May 2012. Her dissertation focuses on Chicana/o identity in academia and uses critical race counterstory (a methodology of critical race theory) to construct a dialogue, a narrative and an allegory concerning Chicana/o undergraduate and graduate student experience while addressing the topics of cultural displacement, assimilation, the American Dream and ethnic studies.

A native Tucsonan, Martinez is a graduate of Cholla High Magnet School. A first-generation college student, she received a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology at the UA in 2005. In 2001 at age 19, while an undergraduate student at the UA, she became a mother to a beautiful daughter, Olivia. She made her way through her undergraduate studies as a single mother and was kept afloat through strong family support, terrific mentoring and her affiliations with programs such as the McNair Scholars Program and Gamma Alpha Omega Latina Sorority.

Martinez received a Master's of Arts in rhetoric, composition and the teaching of English from the UA in 2007. She has published articles, an edited collection and has chapters under review from her dissertation for future publication.

During her time at the UA, Martinez developed first-year composition curricula framed by her theoretical and pedagogical interests. She proposed, piloted and has taught a course focused on issues concerning race, racism and access to higher education for the last four years.

In 2007, she was awarded the Conference on College Composition and Communication Scholars for the Dream Award based on her first-year composition pedagogy. In 2009, she was the recipient of the UA New Start Summer Bridge Program Outstanding Instructor Award. In 2010, she received the Julie Christakis DeFazio Excellence in Teaching Award, a highly competitive award for graduate student teachers of writing.

She also coordinates a writing partnership between UA students and her alma mater, Cholla High Magnet School. She is an instructional advisor for UA Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs and teaches/mentors a group of first-year and first-generation college students who are recipients of the Hispanic Alumni Scholarship.

After graduation, her career plans involve an assistant professorship at one of our nation's universities, where she can continue her efforts toward increasing access, retention and participation of diverse groups in higher education.

Extra info


UA's Winter Commencement ceremony


McKale Memorial Center


Saturday, Dec. 17, 9:30 a.m.


Free parking is available in any surface lot or parking garage. Handicap drop-off is on Fred Enke Drive on the south side of McKale Memorial Center.

Watching Commencement:

The UA Channel broadcasts UA Commencement ceremonies live on Cox Channel 116. For a limited number of Comcast viewers who live inside Tucson city limits, the ceremonies will be broadcast on Comcast Channel 76. In addition, Arizona Public Media will air both ceremonies live on its website.

To place an order for a DVD copy of the next ceremony or a past ceremony, please contact Arizona Public Media at 520-626-7420 or via email at DVD copies of the ceremony are $20 plus $4 shipping payable by cash, check, Visa, Mastercard, Discover or American Express.