Faces of UA

Faces of UA

Real People. Real Scholarship. Real Inspiration.

The University of Arizona is home to many talented scholars, staff members, and students. Get to know the individuals that help our institution excel!

Student Spotlight

Sara Crane

Ms. Sara Crane (she/her)

This November, we turn our spotlight to a student and vital member of our Beyond Juneteeth Committee, Ms. Sara Crane. Sara, who identifies as Black and half-Jewish, spent most of her youth in Southern California before moving to Western Washington’s South Kitsap High School to graduate. In high school, she was an active volunteer fascinated with science and Spanish. Sara chose the University of Arizona for her undergraduate studies because of our fantastic Tucson weather, our amazingly kind people, and our engaged faculty in particular.  

Sara is majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology with a double minor in Spanish and Health & Human Values. She has entered the Accelerated Master’s Program which will allow her to graduate with her Bachelor of Science in Spring 2023 and her Master of Science by Spring 2024. Sara’s long-term goal is to complete a second master's degree in Genetic Counseling in order to work in underserved communities, the Black community in particular, and provide culturally competent care and breast cancer screenings. She is motivated to address inequities in the community, such as Black women being more likely to be diagnosed and die from triple-negative breast cancer compared to their White counterparts.

In her spare time, Sara enjoys hiking and baking. She is inspired by Dr. Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel into space. Her favorite spot on campus is the AASA building because she loves the community in that space. To all those future Wildcats out there, Sara has this advice to offer: “Get connected! It's easier to make a large campus small than a small campus large, and there are many communities and places to get involved on this campus!”


Check Out our Past Spotlights!


Celeste Atkins

Dr. Celeste Atkins (she/her)

Meet Dr. Celeste Atkins, a UArizona alumna and staff member who identifies as a Black woman with a White mother. Along with being a member of the Beyond Juneteenth Committee, Dr. Atkins is a proud Army brat, sociologist, and educator. She believes her most important identity is that of single mother by choice to her amazing daughter Cheyenne. Dr. Atkins enjoys reading and movies, but her superpower is planning amazing over-the-top birthday and holiday celebrations for her family and creating memory books about the experiences. She prefers the hidden spots on campus like the ILC and the roof of the ENR2 building.

Dr. Atkins was born in northern California and grew up mostly in the Southwest. She attended Buena High school in Sierra Vista where she was an avid band, theatre, and speech and debate geek. After graduation, she moved to Southern California for almost 20 years where she began her education at Mount San Antonio College, moved on to complete a BA in Sociology at California State University, San Bernardino, and an MA in Sociology at the University of Southern California. During that time, she worked in a variety of fields - special education, human resources, marketing, and social work – including a stint at DreamWorks SKG where she was able to take a picture with the first Oscar for an animated film.

Dr. Atkins moved back to Arizona in 2007 and worked at Planned Parenthood Arizona for a couple of years before transitioning to a full-time teaching position at Cochise College in Sierra Vista where she was honored with teaching awards by both the Pacific Sociological Association and the American Sociological Association. In 2017, she began her journey at UArizona as a PhD student in Higher Education and a graduate assistant in the Office of Instruction and Assessment. She was honored to be awarded the Maria Teresa Velez Diversity Leadership Scholarship in 2020. That same year, she moved to a full-time position at UArizona and in 2021 she completed her Ph.D. and was named Arizona Women in Higher Education’s (AWHE) Emerging Leader.  In November 2021, Dr. Atkins joined the Faculty Affairs team as the Assistant Director of Faculty Mentoring Initiatives and has been tasked with helping to build the university’s MENTOR Institute.  The best part of her job is the amazing folks she gets to work with every day.  She also loves that the job allows her to get beyond the College of Education to meet faculty, staff, and students from all over campus. She also joined the UArizona Graduate College as an Assistant Professor of Practice and the Director of the Initiative to Maximize Student Development (IMSD) program in October 2022. She is dedicated to service and looking forward to being a 2022-23 Hispanic Serving Institution Fellow along with serving on the AWHE and the UArizona Commission on the Status of Women mentoring committees and as the Vice President elect for the Pacific Sociological Association.

Dr. Atkins is passionate about mentoring and her advice to both prospective students and prospective staff is to surround yourself with multiple mentors.  When Dr. Linda Rillorta chose to mentor her in community college it completely changed the trajectory of her life.  She learned from that experience to look for mentors wherever she goes.  Without mentors such as Dr. Regina Deil-Amen and Christina Kalel she would have not succeeded in her Ph.D. program.  She is also proud to pay that forward as a mentor herself and is learning as much from her mentees as she did from her mentors. 


Dr. Dawn Demps

Dr. Dawn Demps (she/her)

I am a Black African American woman who is the unmarried mother of 3 beautifully talented godlings ranging in ages from 10yrs-19yrs. I also identify as an MS (Multiple Sclerosis) champion who is capriciously abled which seems appropriate given I am also a Gemini. I utilize the moniker “mother-bridge-interrupter-scholar” to capture the features of what I believe I have been gifted and called to do in the world as a natural and othermother, in my home, the global community, and in my intellectual pursuits.

I am a first-generation college student who was born and raised in Flint, MI. I started off high school at Powers Catholic High School in Flint, MI where I received a scholarship which enabled my family to afford for me to attend. While an awesome school academically, its’ racial climate and intolerance instigated my eventual transfer to Flint Central High School. I begged my mother to let me attend Central after I saw their award-winning Madrigal choir perform at a community event. During my high-school years I sang in multiple choirs, acted in stage plays and enjoyed history, civics, English and social studies classes. Still, a culmination of youth decisions, life circumstances and ill-equipped educational institution responses led to me being pushed out of high school at 16. I eventually got my GED at 26 while pregnant with my first child, Journi. Her birth motivated and inspired my academic path, and I attended my first college class at Aurora Community College in Denver, Colorado 3 months after she was born. I then returned home to Flint and attended Mott Community College before transferring to the University of Michigan-Flint where I got my Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Africana Studies and Social Sciences.  I went on to Marygrove College in Detroit, MI to earn my master’s in Social Justice Studies. Consistent throughout these years of schooling was my engagement with youth and families, merging my passion for the arts, faith in the possibility of education for marginalized populations and community advocacy. I wrote for and received multiple community grants and served as the director of multiple education access, arts inspired and community advocacy projects.

Due to my desires connected to community uplift, I was not sure if the academy would be the space for me to further these aspirations although I was always attracted to the life of social investigation and the mind. Furthermore, as a Black single mother who is oftentimes physically challenged, I feared the barriers I may inordinately face and questioned the support system the academy would avail me. Yet, I had countless mentors who urged me to pursue my intellectual pursuits and encouraged me to stretch and think in new ways about how the academy could/should be the environment to improve social circumstances for our most vulnerable populations. I applied for and was accepted in 2016 to the Ph.D. program in Education Policy and Evaluation in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. While at ASU I also worked towards a graduate certificate in African Diasporic Studies in their School of Social Transformation. I completed that portion of my Ph.D. journey in April of 2021 and was fortunate enough to quickly begin my life as a researcher and professor at the University of Arizona the following Fall.

I am currently a professor of Education Leadership and Policy in the Educational Policy Studies and Practice Department in the College of Education. I teach intro and advanced qualitative research courses and a new course on using community power with research to move educational policy change. I am also working with a powerful team led by Dr. Regina Deil-Amen in Education Policy Studies and Practice to initiate a new minor program for Emancipatory Education. Much of my work centers on the history and current iterations of Black educational exclusion and how communal resistance efforts challenge these patterns. I have received past academic funding from the ASU Dissertation Completion Fellowship and the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Most recently I have received financial support from the Smith Endowment Fund to begin a study capturing the experiences of Black K12 DEI school and district leaders in Arizona during the entwined tumult of George Floyd, Covid and the boisterousness of White Supremacy.

I did not begin my academic experience intending nor knowing that this is where I would end up. I battled imposter syndrome and doubts about my true intellectual acumen. I faced the structural violence and lockout that can often greet historically marginalized students on the steps of the ivory tower. I have much I could say to hopeful Black future university students and faculty. Yet for brevity, I will note just a few that I believe to be paramount.

1) Strong support network- This journey is a juggernaut for any individual. If additional complications threaten to impede your progress, a strong team of guidance, encouragement and resources will be key to you making it over and through the trial. In addition to my family, my academic mentors and home community, on campus I have connected with the Black Faculty Association, Sankofa and am building connections with African American Student Affairs (AASA). These homeplaces offer both support and reprieve when things seem immovable.

2) Ask questions and doggedly chase the answers- Due to our inscribed association with stupidity and asking questions, we shy away from speaking up and admitting when we do not know something. This will not serve you well. Asking questions and seeking out the answers will ultimately save you time, effort, and embarrassment in the long run.

3) Reach out to role models, they are only human- I was able to meet and have a part of my academic travails scholars like Dr. Pedro Noguera, Dr. Stanlie James and Dr. David Stovall who I saw exemplify what it means to put theory into praxis and stayed connected with their communities. Some of these connections were facilitated by others in my network, but others occurred because I was not afraid to reach out to those individuals. We are socialized to believe that great thinkers and scholars are untouchable. While their time is indeed limited, they still put on their socks one foot at a time. Take the chance and make contact. You never know what will come forth.

4) Lead with quality and integrity- If you are in fact reaching out to the individuals you admire, you need to be a quality student, scholar and/or advocate who has a track record of integrity and just being a good person. I know the academy can seem competitive, but if people see you as a stand-up person, they are more willing to make time for you. Additionally, you are seeking out precious attention from people who are already pulled wide and in many directions. Lastly, the fact remains, especially as a person of color, that we are required to be 10 times as amazing to get half-time acknowledgement. So, step in with your greatness on shine!

I have not met all the people whom I consider luminaries in academia, though I have been fortunate enough to rub shoulder with many. Of those whom I have yet to meet, in the future I wish to work with Dr. Michelle Fine, Dr. Gloria Ladson Billings, Dr. Joy James and Dr. Michael Dumas. This list is by no means exhaustive.

I know I was not intended to be in this space. But now that I am here, it is my plan to make the most of whatever influence I garner to broaden what being the “college type” means and what the role of the University is in social improvement and justice expansion.


Tyina Steptoe

Dr. Tyina Steptoe (she/her)

Meet Dr. Tyina (sounds like “Tawana”) Steptoe a Black faculty member at the University of Arizona. She is the author of the award-winning book Houston Bound: Culture and Color in a Jim Crow City, which was recognized by the Urban History Association, the Western History Association, and the Houston Metropolitan Research Center. Dr. Steptoe is also a co-chair of the Beyond Juneteenth Committee.

Dr. Steptoe is a first-generation college student hailing from Houston Texas where she was active in her high school participating in choir, theatre, debate, broadcasting, and pep squad. She moved on to complete her BS in Radio-Television-Film and her BA in History at the University of Texas at Austin before completing her MA in Afro-American Studies and PhD in History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before becoming a UArizona Wildcat, Dr. Steptoe worked as an assistant professor at the University of Washington in Seattle and held a residential fellowship at the Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University from 2012-2013. Dr. Steptoe shared that she chose UArizona because “I fell in love with UA the first time I visited. The campus is so vibrant and lively! I also love the sunshine, mountains, and rich cultural heritage of southern Arizona.” With her passion for gardening, Dr. Steptoe also loves that she can garden year-round in Tucson and her favorite spot on campus is watching the women’s basketball team play at McKale.

Dr. Steptoe teaches courses on race, ethnicity, and cultural history in the History department including Music and Ethnic America, the South since the Civil War, American Ethnic History, and the United States since 1945. She also serves on the Executive Committee for the Applied Intercultural Arts Research GIDP where she works with graduate students. Her research currently focuses on music and popular culture in Black and Brown communities, and she is working on a book about gender and sexuality in R&B music since the late 1940s as well as a book on the boy group New Edition. Dr. Steptoe puts her BS to use as a host of a radio show called Soul Stories on 91.3-FM KXCI which explores the roots and branches of rhythm and blues music on Saturdays from 2:00 – 5:00 pm.

To a young Black person who wants to attend the University of Arizona, Dr. Steptoe offers the advice to find a mentor early. She shares that her former professor, Dr. Susan Johnson who now works at UNLV, taught her so much about navigating academia and remains one of the most important mentors in her life. Not only does Dr. Johnson’s brilliant writing continue to inspire her, but Dr. Johnson, in her role as the current president of the Western History Association, invited Dr. Steptoe to serve as the 2022 conference co-chair which offered the gratifying experience of working closely with her mentor again. Dr. Steptoe also points to Dr. Sonja Lanehart in Linguistics as an inspiration stating that she admires the way that as one of the few Black full professors at UArizona, Dr. Lanehart uses her position to organize and energize Black faculty on campus.

To Black scholars looking to have a career as faculty, Dr. Steptoe admits that it can be challenging to balance research, teaching, and service as well as to live in a different state from her extended family. She suggests that scholars should seriously consider the demographics of any potential workplace stating, “Unless you work at an HBCU, you may be the only Black faculty in your department. Consider whether or not you feel comfortable working in that type of situation.”


Want to learn more about a particular Black Faculty member's work? Visit UA Profiles to learn about faculty members and their achievements.