Nubia Grijalva, MSW student, Arizona State University

Student spotlight: Scholarship recipient seeks to help children at DCS, return to hometown to aid vulnerable populations


Mark J. Scarp

Nubia Grijalva was looking forward to an exciting fall semester.

The master’s degree student in ASU’s School of Social Work (SSW) recently had been named one of 10 recipients of the Consuelo W. Gosnell Scholarship from the National Association of Social Workers Foundation and was halfway through an eight-week summer session. Then, her father died.

“When I approached my professors about my situation, their understanding and empathy is what reminded me why I am here,” she said. “They are the social workers I aspire to be like one day. The self-doubt did creep in, and I am sure it will continue to sometimes, but my passion for learning, helping and being an advocate for those who don’t have a voice is stronger than ever as I continue my program. After much self- reflection, I know I am resilient and I am proud of where I am and who I am.” 

Now that she is wrapping up her summer courses, she realizes that “my need to make a change and be the difference keeps growing.”

The Gosnell scholarship is awarded each year to master's degree candidates in social work who are interested in assisting American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanic/Latino populations, public and nonprofit agencies and local grassroots groups in the United States.

Read on to learn more about Grijalva, her social work activities, what motivates her and the plans she’s making for her future:

Q.       Tell us a little about yourself and your early years.

A.       I am a first- generation college student born and raised in the border town of Yuma, Arizona. I graduated from Northern Arizona University Yuma Branch with my Bachelor of Arts in Social Work, emphasis on the U.S. Mexico Border. I am currently an advanced standing master of social work (MSW) degree student in the Child Welfare Education Program.

Q.       What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A.       My “aha” moment was when I was 16, my grandfather passed away due to the negligence of professionals and that is when my journey in wanting to help families receive the best care in difficult times began. At the time, I didn’t know it was social work until I was placed in my introduction to social work class my first year of college.  Everything lined up for me and I knew immediately this was what I wanted. 

Q.       Why did you choose ASU?

A.       ASU has always been my dream school since I first started looking into colleges in high school. Watching my uncle graduate from ASU in 2014 made me realize I wanted to be the next in the family to be a Sun Devil!

Q.       Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A.       In my short time at ASU, Brett Petersen has been the most compassionate, understanding and joyful person I have had the pleasure to be taught by. As MSW degree coordinator, he has done everything to adapt to his students’ needs and thoroughly assess situations to provide the best support and education. He has shown me that no matter how difficult the problem is, there is always a solution.

Q.       What’s your proudest academic or professional accomplishment to date?

A.       My proudest academic or professional accomplishment to date – besides finishing my bachelor’s degree in three years – is the amount of community work my undergraduate program gave me the privilege to complete in my underserved community of Yuma County. One of the many activities we did was to create a macro project in the community that will create a small, but effective, change. A few colleagues and I, with the help of a local organization, set up the first Little Free Library focused just for children. Yuma County has very low reading skills amongst children and not enough resources to provide for low-income and minority families. Even though there are a few Little Free Libraries around the county, we made this one accessible to children grades K-8 through an organization that helps house families in need.

Q.       What do you hope to do with your degree after college?

A.       I hope to receive my master’s degree and work for the Arizona Department of Child Safety to assist in the betterment of children’s lives and overall family health.  I want to use my degree to eventually go back to my hometown of Yuma and help the development of better services for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, children, homeless and minority groups. 

Q.       If someone gave you a $40 million grant to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A.       If I were to receive a $40 million grant to solve one problem it would be to fund school districts to hire social workers to provide another level of support in rural communities. Their wages and numbers continue to decrease even though the numbers of homelessness, child hunger, domestic abuse and financial instability continue to increase in underserved communities. By placing social workers where needed, research can be collected to bring in more funding for the continuation of their employment once they see the positive changes they can create. This helps by addressing the issues at the root of the problem. Help starts by making social workers accessible to children, families and staff who are on the front lines of these issues. 

Q.       What is in your Netflix queue, or what movies/shows have you been recently hooked on?

A.       I currently am, and have been for the longest time, hooked on the shows “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Criminal Minds”! I also tend to watch any good crime documentaries or crime-solving podcasts. They are the perfect self-care!

Q.       What’s your life motto in one sentence?

A,        “Just keep swimming.” (Thanks to Dory from “Finding Nemo!” Everything happens for a reason, so just keep going.) 

Photo courtesy of Nubia Grijalva. Mark J. Scarp is media relations officer for the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.