2023 Diane Thomas Scholarship Recipient Brings Her Empathy to Social Work

Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Phoenix College alumna Marcelina Regalado is recipient of Diane Thomas Scholarship
Phoenix College alumna Marcelina Regalado will transfer to New Mexico State University to study social work.
Phoenix College aluma Marcelina Regalado plans to pursue work in juvenile corrections.

En Español. Twenty-two-year-old Marcelina Regalado has an old soul. From a young age, she would sit and observe people. During those observations, she realized their environment had a lot of influence on how they acted. "I have a lot of empathy, so if someone is acting a certain way, I try to think about what in their environment might have made them that way," she said. She also acknowledged that people aren't into the 9 – 5 anymore. "People are getting burnt out working jobs they don't like and not taking time to do what they want to do," she said. She added that people are advocating for a universal income, so they can live and not have to work so hard to survive.

Nursing to Social Work 

A 2019 graduate of Bioscience High School, Marcelina began her studies in nursing at Phoenix College (PC) because she heard it was a good program and seemed like a stable career. But during the pandemic, she reflected on her educational pursuits, social issues, and how our government handled the pandemic. "People were losing their jobs, families were being kicked out of their homes, the cost of living was going up," she said. By her third semester, she realized social work made her soul thrive with hands-on community work and history lessons.

In her first semester as a social work student, Marcelina took a class with Sandra Leal, and the discussions and assignments left a profound impression on her. Students went into the community to see what local organizations were doing to tackle different social issues. Marcelina connected with Cihuapactli Collective, a group of families making a difference in the lives of black and indigenous communities. "The experiences and connections I made at Phoenix College reassured me that I was on the right path and finally doing what makes me happy," she said. "I'm grateful to have wonderful, supportive educators that want to see students succeed." 

Social Systems and Special Education

From a young age, Marcelina has been active in advocacy work paying special attention to how social systems affect communities. "There's a lot of social reform that needs to happen to help people dealing with mental issues and disabilities," she said. "We are headed in the right direction, but working in Special Education (SPED), I realize how much work needs to be done." In Phoenix, Marcelina worked at North High School in a self-contained classroom supporting students with Down's Syndrome and lower-functioning autism. In December 2022, she graduated from PC with an Associate of Arts degree with an emphasis in Social Work and moved to New Mexico in January to establish residency. She plans to attend New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Las Cruces for a Bachelor of Social Work degree.

In New Mexico, she worked in a behavior classroom with middle schoolers with anger issues, multiple personality disorders, and autism. In the afternoon, she spent time with kindergarteners and first-graders in SPED who needed help with certain subjects. "I appreciate the field I'm going into," she said. "I'm always going to be a life-long learner, but you learn a lot from the people you meet and work with–not only about yourself but the community's condition.


When Marcelina is not in the classroom working, she tries to learn something new, so she's currently working on a registered behavior technician certification. Yet, this summer, she's taking time to travel and rest. She's headed first to Southern California to spend time with family and then Seattle to visit the Hoh Rainforest. For self-care she tries to do little things that bring her joy. "I like going for walks, cooking, baking, crocheting," she said. "I recently have been thrifting and sewing, practicing alterations, if I need a side hustle." 


Diane Thomas Scholarship

An email prompted her to apply for the Diane Thomas Scholarship for Phoenix College students transferring to a university after graduation. She's applied for many scholarships over the years but didn't receive any because she didn't qualify for financial need with her parents' income factored in, even though she made less than $20,000 a year. "I was very discouraged, but for the Diane Thomas scholarship, I tried to write from the heart and tell my story," she said. "I emphasized how this path I'm on will be healing for me while working with communities to heal others. Noble work."

The $10,000 scholarship, which will help cover her tuition and books at NMSU, allows her to devote time for herself, her education, and her growth, which she notes is vital for the work she wants and how she shows up for others. "I realize how fortunate I am to be able to continue with my education and do this line of work," she said." I would be the first in my family to break the generational cycles of fear around not having enough money to pursue an opportunity."

As for her future, she says she's in it for the ride and hopes to work in juvenile correction. "I'm young, still learning, still seeking challenging opportunities, and putting myself in uncomfortable positions since I know that will help me grow and give me the most satisfaction in the long run."

Submissions for the Diane Thomas Scholarship will open in early Spring 2024. Find out more about the Diane Thomas Scholarship process.