Work in Progress

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Just like a collage, UW Tacoma senior Stacey Fernandez is adding new pieces to her self-portrait: college graduate and soon-to-be master's student.

Collage is an artform whereby different images and materials are combined to make something entirely new. UW Tacoma senior Stacey Fernandez came to the medium during a training at Catherine Place, a non-profit women’s center in Tacoma.

Fernandez, a social welfare major, is an intern at Catherine Place. “We talk a lot about the ethics of self-care within the field of social work,” said Fernandez. “We did a ’soul collage’ session as a way for providers to connect with themselves.” A soul collage, aka SoulCollage, is an art-therapy method working with images torn or clipped and reassembled into card-sized collages.

Fernandez created this collage called "Her Crown of Mountains," which, Fernandez says, "represents the tenacious spirit immigrants have that allows them to survive in systems that weren't designed for their success."The process of searching, selecting, clipping and combining different visuals spoke to Fernandez. “It’s very relaxing,” she said. “I’ve found that it’s important to disconnect from what’s going on around you so you can connect with yourself.”

Fernandez grew up in San Bernardino, Calif. Her parents moved from Mexico to the United States in order to raise a family. Fernandez is the third of four siblings — all girls. “My dad always pushed us to be self-sufficient, I think because of how he grew up,” said Fernandez. “He didn’t own a pair of shoes until he joined the Mexican Army.”

Service has long been important to Fernandez. Her parents are Catholic and took their daughters to church every Sunday. At one-point Fernandez entertained the idea of becoming a nun. “I had this religious education teacher named Sister Ann who told us it was our duty to be kind to everyone, not just the people that looked like us or those we shared similarities with,” said Fernandez. “I aspired to be that loving and caring.”

Fernandez ultimately decided against joining a convent. “There were things I would have to had to give up that I wasn’t willing to let go of,” she said. At this point Fernandez was attending community college, off and on, in Southern California. “I was working two to three jobs and only went when I could afford it,” she said.

Collages are an exercise in seeing things differently. At this point in her life Fernandez needed a change of perspective. “I was struggling financially and emotionally,” she said. Fernandez had friends in Poulsbo, Wash.,who offered her a place to stay. “It can be difficult to start all over again but, looking back, it’s one of the best things I’ve done,” she said.

Fernandez enrolled in Olympic College Poulsbo. Her interest in helping others ultimately lead her to the field of social work. Fernandez transferred to UW Tacoma in the fall of 2018 to pursue a degree in social welfare.

Fernandez holding her MLK Jr. Student Dream Award which she received at the 2020 MLK Jr. Unity Breakfast.Fernandez has kept a busy schedule during her time on campus. She served as president of the Student Social Work Organization and is the senior coordinator in the Office of Student Involvement. Fernandez has also belonged to different committees including the New Student Enrollment and Orientation Fee Advisory Council. Fernandez’s dedication extends to the classroom. She was recently awarded a $7,500 Latino Center for Health Student Scholars Fellowship.

The 29-year-old Fernandez was looking forward to spring quarter, especially her course with Associate Professor Michelle Montgomery. “I was excited to be in the presence of a strong woman of color,” said Fernandez. Then there’s the celebratory aspect of spring quarter when seniors participate in all manner of events designed to honor their achievement.

COVID-19 upended Fernandez’s plans. The pandemic put the brakes on modern life. UW Tacoma, along with the rest of UW and like many other colleges and universities, is now carrying out all instruction remotely. This is both a disappointment and a relief for Fernandez. “I have severe asthma,” she said. “I have three different inhalers that I use for different situations.”

The outside has long been a somewhat hazardous place for Fernandez but she didn’t let her asthma dictate the terms of her life. She had, still has, an active social life but it’s different now. She gets help with things like groceries and regularly chats with friends and classmates over online platforms like Zoom. “I’m grateful to staff and faculty for making this quarter possible,”

Fernandez finishes her undergraduate work at UW Tacoma in June. Her next move: pursuing a master’s degree in student affairs at Seattle University starting in the fall. A first-generation student, Fernandez decided she wanted to help students like her succeed in higher education. “I’m still trying to wrap my mind around graduation and getting a master’s,” she said. “I never thought it was possible.”

As you may have guessed, Fernandez has been busy making collages lately. She likes each one for different reasons but the one she’s most proud of is herself.

Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / April 9, 2020
Photos by: 
Megan Kitagawa and Stacey Fernandez
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or