Graduation photo of Riccardo

Riccardo Rossi, Criminology (Graduate)

Born and raised in Italy, Riccardo decided to come to the United States because he wanted to study Criminology. After earning his Bachelor’s in 2019, Riccardo decided to continue his education at UWG to earn a Master’s in Criminology.

Since he was a child, he’s been fascinated with solving crimes or understanding why people commit crimes, and he “…knew that [at the moment] the United States was the best country for a Criminology major with the most advance techniques and research.” At 18, during a visit to Atlanta, he came and visited the University and the office for International Student Admissions and Programs. During his visit, Riccardo said he enjoyed the smaller feel of the campus and how everything is in walking distance; so, when he was offered a scholarship to attend UWG, it made his decision very easy.

While there were certainly some learning curves in the beginning, Riccardo said he’s never felt like he really struggled at college: “People are amazing here. I made a lot of friends my first year that are still friends now after four or five years. That really [helped]. I wasn’t the only international student. Like here at the university, they have a great international program. …[E]very semester different international student will come and I would [get a chance to] meet new people…. I had an amazing time.”

Riccardo could not name a single favorite professor in Criminology; instead, he credited many of them for the diverse backgrounds and experiences: “All the professors have something special, something different.” Using what he has learned, he is hoping to become a crime intelligence analyst and eventually obtaining a job for Interpol or the United Nations in hopes that he can “… share the knowledge I gained here in the United States and make a difference in the world because my opportunity here—like I was lucky to get it—and after studying Criminology, I’ve become very aware that not many people get so many opportunities, so I would like to make a difference for these people.”

In Italy, Riccardo said, graduation is not nearly as big of an event, so when he earned his Bachelor’s degree in 2019, he was thrilled to celebrate: “Luckily, like my family managed to come to Carrollton, so they were able to watch my graduation. I was able to make them proud, so I was happy that I was able to make them proud. It was a really nice experience… The celebration in the US—It’s really beautiful.” We hope you get another beautiful celebration this year, Riccardo. We cannot wait to see what your future holds!

Photo of Alondra posing on a bridge

Alondra Ayala Nunez, Political Science (Undergraduate)

Alondra is ready and excited to graduate this May from the University of West Georgia with her Bachelor’s in Political Science, but this isn’t because she’s ready to leave West Georgia or her professors. In fact, her biggest regret was not originally starting at UWG: “I really like the school’s environment. … [T]he set up and the students are really welcoming and nice.”

Raised in Mexico until she was in the seventh grade, Alondra originally attended Georgia State, but she found herself wanting a smaller environment with professors who cared about individual success. Luckily, she found that at UWG: “The professors were amazing. I just really liked it.”

She decided to major in Political Science, because she had an interest in “the whole governmental system”: “It’s nice to know more about it and how laws work, the process and everything. And I plan to go to law school, so Political Science was the most popular major.

Looking into Emory for law school, Alondra is really proud of herself for passing Dr. Tom Hunter’s classes, including constitutional law: “He is a tough professor, but you’ll learn, and he prepares you. So, I am really grateful for his classes. If I had been at West Georgia [at the start of my college career] I would have had the opportunity to take him in more classes.” For students just starting out, Alondra wants to advise them to “just push through, and if you want it, just work for it, because I feel like it is worth it in the end.” Congratulations to Alondra for pushing through and working for it! We’re so proud of you!

Photo of Sadie walking at graduation; she's waving at the crowd

Sadie Creel, Criminology (Graduate)

Sadie Creel—who already “Went West” once—returned to UWG to earn her master’s degree in Criminology. Originally from Lawrenceville, Sadie decided not to follow the same path as her high school classmates as they journeyed to UGA for her undergraduate degree. Sadie already had a tie to West Georgia—her sister had earned her specialist degree at UWG—and when Sadie discovered West Georgia was the only school to have an actual criminology major (instead of something like a minor in criminology with a major in sociology), she knew this was the place for her.

Keeping the trend of using her family as a barometer, Sadie chose criminology because many of her family members had been involved in the criminal justice system: “It kind of got me interested because I understood that they were not bad people, but they’re not necessarily making good choices.” She sought to understand why, even when raised in the same household, hers and her family members’ choices differed so vastly. She soon discovered that criminology is “way more fascinating and way more complicated” than she originally thought and found herself hooked.

Sadie knew from the beginning she did not want to be a police officer and was a bit concerned about what other career paths were open to her. That was until her Survey of Criminology course, in which Dr. Lee “Mike” Johnson showed her the numerous opportunities available in criminology; this, along with his thorough explanation of the research process, kept her involved and interested in continuing with criminology. Her love only grew with her courses as she dove into controversial topics and analyzed both sides of an argument. One such example of discussing controversial topics was in her human trafficking class with Dr. Sarah Hupp-Williamson, in which one topic—the discussion was the decriminalization of sex work—required students to “research the facts for ourselves and synthesize all that information.”

Sadie looks back fondly at her first graduation since she and her sister were the first to graduate in their family: “My sister was the first one in our family to go, and I got to continue the legacy. But I kind of made my mom’s dreams come true and to have her there… seeing me after all the years she gave me support… that is probably the best memory.”

Sadie will get to add another favorite memory in May: graduating with her master’s degree in criminology. As usual, Sadie is keeping her eye on the prize and moving to earn her PhD from University of Nebraska at Omaha, one of the top 15 criminology programs in the nation. She knows she’s going to miss everyone at UWG: “I felt really close to some professors here, and, I mean, that’s why I came back here a second time, because I knew who I was dealing with and I knew they would support me. So, it’s going to be hard. I’m going to miss everybody.”

We will miss you, too, Sadie, but we are so proud of you and cannot wait to see what your future holds!

Picture of Shawnzia Thomas

Shawnzia Thomas, Public Administration (Graduate)

University College and the Department of Civic Engagement and Public Service are excited to announce that one of our alumni, Shawnzia Thomas, has been appointed as Georgia’s new Chief Information Officer and Executive Director of the Georgia Technology Authority.

In 2019, Ms. Thomas served as a Commissioner on the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity’s Advisory Board as well as a member of the Hospitality Ministry at Chapelhill Church in Atlanta. Looking to advance her education, trusted friends and UWG alumni recommended the Master’s of Public Administration at the University of West Georgia. Shawnzia found it was a perfect fit, particularly considering its online availability. 

While being online prevented her from experiencing the campus environment, Shawnzia had nothing but praise for her professors and program: “The MPA program at UWG has some of the BEST professors around. There is no way to choose just one favorite. I can say that Dr. Sooho Lee and his team really take pride in what they do and each student.”

Shawnzia entered the University of West Georgia with an impressive resume in public works for the state’s government. She served as the Commissioner/Director of the Office of Secretary of State’s Corporations Division, where she “spearheaded the implementation of an innovative filing system for businesses. The eCorp filing system has been instrumental in the state of Georgia being named the best state in which to do business for the past three consecutive years by Area Development.” As the Executive Director of GCEO, which she was appointed in 2019, she “enforced the Georgia Fair Employment Practices Act and the Georgia Fair Housing Law to safeguard Georgians from discrimination in housing and employment.” She transitioned into the role of the Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Human Services (DHS), where she led Georgia Gateway, “which is the integrated eligibility system that is responsible for issuing social service benefits to over two (2) million Georgia citizens. She has been newly appointed the State Chief Information Officer (CIO) & Executive Director of Georgia Technology Authority (GTA) as of July 1, 2021.

Her advice for those interested in working in the public sector: “Get into the Public Administration program because it deals with every aspect one may encounter in the public sector arena. If you can get into a job of a policy analyst, that would be a great place to start.”