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Meet Rio Salado’s 2021 All-Arizona Academic Scholars

two student photos says 'Congratulations All AZ Honorees'

Meet Rio Salado’s 2021 All-Arizona Academic Scholars Bryce Cristiano and Jordan Nicole Herrera

Rio Salado College students Bryce Cristiano and Jordan Nicole Herrera were among 77 Arizona community college students honored at the 2021 All-Arizona Academic Team Celebration on March 4. The annual ceremony recognizes students who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievements, community service and distinguished leadership that extends their education beyond the classroom to benefit society. 

The recognition comes with rewards including $500-$1,000 in scholarships and tuition waivers to attend Arizona State University, The University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University. Each community college chooses two students to receive this honor.

“Bryce and Jordan are exemplary scholars,” said Rio Salado Interim President Kate Smith. “They have excelled academically and in their service to help others— creating a ripple effect of positive change. We have faced a harrowing year battling COVID-19, social divisions, economic hardships and many other challenges, which makes their efforts even more extraordinary and inspirational. We are honored to be a part of their educational journey and proud to name them Rio Salado’s 2021 ALL-AZ scholars.”

Cristiano and Herrera are members of Rio Salado’s PTK Alpha Theta Omicron Chapter and share a few other things in common, including a love of learning, service and writing.

Bryce Cristiano 

Cristiano is a Rio Salado history major pursuing a career directing films that inspire and promote social change. He plans to graduate from Rio Salado this spring with an associate of arts degree and then transfer to City College of New York to complete a double major in Film Production and History with a minor in Philosophy beginning this fall. “I hope to merge all these interests to make films that inspire, entertain and educate.”

Film is clearly his muse. “As soon as I got a camera as a child, I have been making short films and animations to tell stories, graduating to larger cameras as I have grown up, so it seems only natural for me to be pursuing a career in film. My ambition is to work as a director to bring original stories and slices of history to life on screen.”

Cristiano said he has already taken steps toward his film career through “years of rigorous self-studying and by continually engaging in scriptwriting. I am in the process of directing a short film that I have written over the summer and will be entering it into competitions in Phoenix, Shenzhen and Shanghai.”

Like many Rio Salado students, Cristiano is returning to college to resume his educational journey.

Cristiano moved to China eight years ago, at the age of 18, which he said “dramatically impacted how I see the world. The challenges I faced with integrating into life in China, learning Chinese on my own, all while striving to attend university, continuously pushed me past my limits.” He moved to China to learn the language with aspirations of attending Tsinghua University or Fudan University.

He decided to move back to the states in 2020 to begin a new life. “My future is in the U.S., but China will always have a special place in my heart as a second home. Rio Salado College is my gateway back into the U.S. education system,” said Cristiano, who now lives in Phoenix.

To complement his studies, Cristiano enrolled in Maricopa Community College’s Student Public Policy Forum program to learn about local, state and national public policy making and citizen influence.  He also took on the role of co-lead for Rio Salado’s PTK Honors-in-Action project, proposing the chapter focus its efforts on researching current perceptions of racism in the U.S. with a historical view of the unresolved issues that stem from long-standing racial inequity. Cristiano led the way by using his talents as a researcher and writer to defend and craft the narratives of their findings.

“While the project is still ongoing, our research finds that groups of people wielding social dominance tend to perceive gains in social progress by minorities as an encroachment on their freedoms. Besides these findings, there is also ample research that suggests that White Americans perceive more progress has been made for Black Americans' rights than the perceptions of Black Americans who feel much work is left to be done.”

Cristiano and the PTK team are researching social progress in the U.S. while exploring social issues in other countries such as feminist struggles in Malaysia, with a global and historical perspective about the struggle for equity. “Our project was recently selected for the PTK Mellon Foundation Honors in Action Grant, which will allow us to create a website and social media platform for people worldwide to share their perceptions of progress.”

Managing the schoolwork, extra projects and personal issues was initially difficult for Cristiano but that has subsided. “I now feel that I have more confidence within PTK and the project. PTK has allowed me to network with fellow students, take up leadership roles and find ways of serving my community— even when I was halfway across the world.” 

Cristiano has a 4.0 grade point average and has also been recognized as a Rio Salado President’s Honors scholar. Raised by two women, one of whom is a university professor, is what inspired him the most to pursue higher education. "Through every step of my life journey, they have been on the sidelines, cheering me on and always encouraging my college return."

Jordan Nicole Herrera

Herrera hopes to be a medical doctor to practice Eastern and Western medicine. The Xavier College Preparatory student is earning high school and college credits simultaneously through Rio Salado’s dual enrollment program. She plans to graduate from Xavier Prep and Rio Salado this spring with two degrees, an associate of arts and associate in general studies. She will be attending The University of Arizona’s Honors College this fall to pursue a double major in Neuroscience and Computer Science.

Hererra is also a Hispanic Heritage Foundation and Harvey Mudd Future Achievers Science and Technology (FAST) Program scholar who hopes to “meld her cognitive science knowledge with artificial intelligence and machine learning to make medical procedures safer and more affordable.”

Community service is paramount to Hererra, who lives in Gilbert, AZ, with her family. “Helping others is my passion and to bring about change I have stepped forward as a leader. My volunteer work created my sense of duty to help others using my time and talent and it's now a core value.”

Outside of her studies, Herrera has dedicated her time to serving the Governor’s Youth Commission Education Subcommittee, breaking records as a Rio Swim Club team member, helping as a counselor for Xavier Prep’s Girls Have IT Summer Camp and boxing hundreds of care packages for Feed My Starving Children.

There is also a strong creative side to Herrera. “I love writing poetry and have an affinity for imaginative stories which provide an escape from the hardships of life. My overall objective is to improve the lives of others through my work in the medical field and to touch others with the written words I reap from my heart.”

Hererra’s drive comes from several sources of inspiration. “Education is emphasized in my family and I have been told my entire life that knowledge is the one thing that can never be taken away from me and that a good education equals freedom. I strive for excellence because the values instilled in me throughout my life have made me the person I am today. I am also internally driven to reach new heights in order to continue with my growth as a person. I attribute the person I am today and the person I will be in the future, to the accumulation of life experiences and the people who continue to support me.”

Like many events this year, the ALL-AZ ceremony was virtual. Among the presenters was Arizona Governor Doug Ducey who shared these encouraging words, “Members of the All-Arizona Academic Team embody the tenacious and determined spirit that has long defined Arizona and its citizens. Through their resolve and dedication to academic excellence, work ethic and exemplary civic engagement, these distinguished scholars have demonstrated they are well-prepared for today’s challenges, and have effectively paved their pathways to a brighter tomorrow. Congratulations to all of the students who have received this prestigious award and my admiration to all of their families who helped them along the way. We are truly fortunate to have each and every one of you as examples of the boundless opportunities we have in Arizona.”

The All-Arizona Academic Team Celebration is hosted annually by Mesa Community College on behalf of the Arizona Board of Regents and Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. You can watch the 2021 ceremony now on YouTube.

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