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Dean’s Award 2024 – Destiny Nash uses education and research to overcome anxiety

Destiny Nash, Environmental Studies major, is the Dean's Award winner for the College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies. (Photo courtesy Student Affairs/Hazart Sanker)

One touch was all it took for Destiny Nash to fall in love – with sharks.

“I was quite scared, but that was because I’d watched films and shows that portray sharks in very sensationalized ways,” said Nash, who first touched the apex predator on a childhood trip to San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay.

“But actually seeing and touching one, and learning more about them … they’re cute.”

Nash’s fondness for sharks helped her overcome significant anxiety and discover a passion for the environment.

“I’ve always greatly loved sharks. They’re misunderstood. They’re just so chill, and they have a lot of intrinsic value in terms of their importance in the water. As apex predators, they keep the ecosystems healthy." -- Destiny Nash

After earning a nearly perfect GPA, Nash is graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and a minor in Art Studio. She is the 2023-24 Dean’s Award recipient for the College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies.

Deans’ Awards are given at Commencement to the top graduating student from each of Sac State’s seven academic colleges.

“I was just happy to be nominated,” she said. “This is way more than freshman Destiny could even imagine.”

Nash was raised by her mom in Sacramento’s Freeport area, where her family has lived for several generations. She grew up volunteering at the community center that was named after her great-grandmother Evelyn Moore, a neighborhood activist.

“She was very involved with her community, education and making sure the neighborhood she was raising her children in had its needs met,” Nash said. “It’s kind of like a generational family thing. It’s just always been in the family.”

Although Nash grew up knowing the importance of serving her community, her anxiety made it difficult for her to talk to other people. Over time, however, she learned she could calm her fears by arming herself with knowledge.

“Education, learning, is a really good way for me to be less anxious,” she said. “Planning and prepping, especially when it comes to speeches, and having that research about a topic is always really helpful when I talk to others.

“I don’t think it ever goes away, but I just try my best to engage and be more kind to myself.”

For her Advanced Geographic Information Systems class final, she conducted a mapping analysis of Sacramento County library locations, looking at the number of branches, their accessibility to public transportation and their hours.

“I really enjoy books and reading, and I love libraries,” Nash said, “so I wanted to do something about the importance of libraries.”

She and other students presented the research to former Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, arguing against defunding libraries.

“Libraries don’t just offer books, they also offer ancestry research, access to online courses, computers and free printers,” Nash said. “It's so important to have libraries in as many communities as possible.”

Nash, who has volunteered for the community nonprofit Freeport Renovation on the Move since 2012, also served on Associated Students Inc. as a Green Team committee member.

She wrote her senior thesis on environmental psychology and media representation of sharks, which was also the subject of one of her final ceramic projects.

“I’ve always greatly loved sharks. They’re misunderstood,” Nash said. “They’re just so chill, and they have a lot of intrinsic value in terms of their importance in the water. As apex predators, they keep the ecosystems healthy.

“They’re pretty cool.”

Nash, who hopes to become a sustainability analyst, examined how sharks are portrayed in the media, films and TV, even looking at the language used to report shark interactions and cultural beliefs.

“Having that research and data to back up what you’re saying and to create policy is very important,” Nash said. “I want to work in sustainability to find potential solutions and enact more sustainable policies through research and data.”

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About Jennifer K. Morita

Jennifer K. Morita joined Sacramento State in 2022. A former newspaper reporter for the Sacramento Bee, she spent several years juggling freelance writing with being a mom. When she isn’t chauffeuring her two daughters, she enjoys reading mysteries, experimenting with recipes, and Zumba.

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