Meet sustainability alum and secretary of the CLFSA Maria Coca

Maria Coca Ascencio felt destined to study sustainability.

“I grew up surrounded by mountains, volcanos, calderas, trees, rivers, and dark skies viewing millions of stars with the naked eye,” Coca said. “Nature was my first love.”

Following her heart, she applied to the School of Sustainability and was accepted into the Executive Master of Sustainability Leadership program, from which she graduated in 2019. She is currently the Academic Senate Manager and Secretary of the ASU Chicano/Latino Faculty & Staff Association (CLFSA). In the following Q&A, learn more about Maria, her passion for sustainability and her role on the CLFSA.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study sustainability?

Answer: I’m not sure I had an “aha” moment. It was more like fate stepping in and opening doors for me. I was born in El Salvador and during my formative years I grew up surrounded by mountains, volcanos, calderas, trees, rivers, and dark skies viewing millions of stars with the naked eye (we didn’t have electricity). Nature was my first love and I imprinted on the planet and the natural world, this is what I mean about fate stepping in. I was always supposed to study sustainability.

Q: Why did you choose the Executive Master of Sustainability Leadership (EMSL)?

A: Choosing the Executive Master of Sustainability Leadership was easy because it had everything I was looking for in a graduate program. It was cohort based, it had an immersive oversees, it was a year-round 12-month program, and it was a hybrid of in-person and online courses. It truly was the perfect program for me.

Q: Were there any particular classes or nuggets of information that really stuck with you or inspired you?

A: It may sound cliché, but I can honestly tell you the entire year was awe inspiring. From week one meeting all my classmates (truly the best people in the planet), to visiting Intel, Chase Field and immediately deep diving into real-life challenges and pondering solutions. The program only got better from there. The immersive week in Amsterdam was truly a highlight as we go to visit and learn first-hand from Dutch organizations how to holistically incorporate sustainably into every aspect of an organization.

Q: How has the EMSL advanced your career?

A: Being in the EMSL program I learned to think in systems, to identify the root problem and find opportunities, to work collaboratively and to build alliances. In short, I learned to turn challenges into opportunities. And because of this I’m more marketable. But to answer your question more clearly, I finished my program in January, by April I was in a new position (promotion) as the Senate Manager for University Senate where I oversee the daily operation of my unit.

Q: What does it mean to you to be voted on to the executive board of the ASU Chicano/Latino Faculty & Staff Association?

A: I love serving in the executive board of CLFSA, and feel honored to part of  a cohort of leaders who are passionate about all things LatinX but in particular, about advancing, advocating, and elevating the Latino community at ASU.

Q: Can you tell us about your roles on the board?

A: The official duties of the Secretary are to ensure meetings (General sessions and executive sessions) are effectively organized and recorded. This means keeping minutes, filing minutes, checking quorum is present at meetings, sending out communication on behalf of the organization, ensuring adherence to bylaws, and many of the like. BUT being Secretary for CLFSA is more than just the duties — it’s the devotion to the people and the mission of the organization. This means I will do everything and anything that needs to be done in support of the people and the mission.

Q: What more can be done to increase LatinX representation?

A: Intentionality. Diversity and inclusion must be planned. The current system in place does not allow for organic inclusion of “others.” Therefore, if we want to increase LatinX representation we must be intentional about it.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?

A: I’m a passionate gardener. I have a backyard farm in Gilbert (Yogi Farm) where I grow a lot of my own food, and teach others how to start their own gardens. I want to start a backyard farm movement!