This year, we shared so many incredible stories of students and alum from the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC) who have overcome obstacles and triumphed over challenges to ultimately achieve their goals. These inspirational members of the UAGC community shook off their own self-doubts, fears and quieted the voices of critics to accomplish what they and others around them may not have believed possible. And for that, they were featured as our Student and Alum of the Month honorees throughout the year.
With the end of 2021 upon us, we asked UAGC faculty and staff to vote for one current student and one alum from those stories who embodied the tenacity and commitment to excellence that is an ongoing source of motivation to students and faculty alike.
One student and one alum stood out from the crowd. One overcame the unthinkable in her youth to become an advocate for military families with goals of working toward a more equitable criminal justice system. The other is a lifelong sports fan who turned his passion for athletics and psychology into a fulfilling career.
We caught up with our honorees to find out where they are as 2021 comes to a close and learn more about what continues to motivate them as we approach the new year ahead.
2021 Alum of the Year: Dr. Thomas Stallworth II
The past 11 months have been extremely busy for our Alum of the Year, Dr. Thomas Stallworth II. In February 2021, he took on the role of a lifetime as the head strength and conditioning coach for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. While his team may be fighting for a playoff berth this year, Thomas has had a memorable and successful year.
“To think I’m working for my hometown team is surreal,” says Thomas, who also completed his Doctor of Psychology with a specialization in sport and performance psychology from UAGC in 2021.
Thanks to earning his PsyD, Thomas now is part of an elite group in the NFL. Of the 32 head strength and conditioning coaches in the organization, he is only one of four to have a doctoral degree and one of only three to also be Black.
And he’s prepared to demonstrate his knowledge whenever the opportunity presents itself.
“When there are psychological discussions or personality questions, people readily want to include me and value my perspective,” he says. “This was a much more fulfilling degree than either one of my previous ones because there was a burning desire to achieve this and prove to myself that I was capable of it.”
In addition to taking on his new role and completing his doctoral degree in the same year, Thomas has had opportunities to share his passion for psychology and mental health with the community. Most recently, he was invited back to South Carolina State, where he previously worked to lead a presentation for students, faculty, and staff on mental health in the Black community.
“I understand the need for the psychological skillset and the importance of psychology in the Black community,” he notes. “I have been exposed to a lot of things, and I’d love to be able to sit down and talk to some of these players as they transition through life and help them navigate their own lives.”
Whether he’s on the sidelines helping athletes or at center stage presenting on topics that are near to his heart, Thomas continues to use the knowledge and skills he sharpened at UAGC to make an impact.
Today, he’s adding yet another credential to his list of achievements as the 2021 Alum of the Year.
“I have been a part of some significant team accomplishments, but this is one of the greatest personal accomplishments of my life,” he says. “For there to be so many students that have come through UAGC and be selected has really left me speechless.”
2021 Student of the Year: Tiana Sims
Our Student of the Year, Tiana Sims, personifies tenacity, grit, and perseverance. While the challenges of her young life may have been unimaginable, she continues to remind us to take back the narrative no matter what happens.
Now, she’s a bachelor’s degree recipient, well on her way to completing her master’s degree, and in November was elected member of her local school board. She says she has no plans of stopping there.
“I think they’re wanting to see someone younger, someone who’s kind of living that daily life,” she says of her future political prospects.
As a result, she’s changed her plans a bit with her new political endeavors. Rather than pursuing a law degree after completing her master’s degree, Tiana plans to return to UAGC to pursue her doctoral degree. But, she still has a law degree in her future goals.
Tiana’s life has taken her through many different paths, eventually finding herself at Ashford University* as a result of a push forward from a friend. As a student, she found her niche as an advocate for military families, a CHAMPS peer mentor and later student success assistant, and drawing from previous experience, an Access & Wellness Counselor — all of which she continues to do today.
Tiana says it’s her desire to build a better world and guide others to ways they can make a difference that motivates her to continue pushing forward.
“There is a need for us to do better,” she says. “People want to do better themselves, but they may be scared to take that step. They may not know how to contribute or what to do. For me to be able to speak life and hope and encouragement to others and watch them take off and be the best versions of themselves is all the encouragement I need.”
When Tiana heard the news of her Student of the Year award, she and her husband were heading out to do some Christmas shopping for their kids.
“I screamed,” she laughs. She says she may have frightened her husband, who was at the steering wheel when she was reading her email. They were able to have a moment of celebration in the parking lot of a sporting goods store before carrying on with their holiday shopping.
“I just took on another mentee with the CHAMPS program,” she explains. “So being able to talk to the new, first-year college students and be able to share I won UAGC Student of the Year, and you can see the appetite and the hunger for them to not only succeed, but to do well.”
Tiana and Thomas show all of us that where you start does not have to define where you end up. The journey toward self-discovery is ongoing, and we may constantly reshape the visions for our futures. Continuous improvement of self — while supporting those around you — will lead to stronger communities and a better world for everyone.
Could you be the next UAGC Alum or Student of the Year? Thomas believes it’s within your reach.
“With the right support system and desires to continuously get better, anything is possible in life,” he encourages.
If you’re like Thomas or Tiana and have a unique story to tell, email us at [email protected] for a chance to be featured as a Student or Alum of the Month!
*Ashford University is now the University of Arizona Global Campus.
Written by Whitney Bradford and Erin Ansley
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