Dec. 8, 2022
Savanna Saunders and Dorthea Stephenson header image
Earlier this semester, W.A. Franke Honors College students Savanna Saunders and Dorothea Stephenson were honored as scholarship recipients at the NAACP-Tucson Branch’s 2022 Freedom Fund Banquet.
Stephenson playing viola at the banquet

Stephenson played the national anthem on her viola during the 2022 Freedom Fund Banquet.

The Freedom Fund Banquet is an annual event that seeks to celebrate and educate on the continuation of emancipation efforts in the United States. The pandemic put a pause on the celebrations over the last few years, so this fall's event was highly anticipated by community members and organization partners. 

The Tucson NAACP 2022 Freedom Banquet luncheon was held at Casino Del Sol, and included speakers, music performances, and a three-course meal. Last year’s scholarship awardees were honored along with the 2022 scholarship awardees, Saunders and Stephenson. Awardees receive a financial award as well as a year membership with the NAACP. 

Meet Savanna Saunders: Exploring the World Through Study & Science 

Savanna Saunders is a sophomore studying ecology and evolutionary biology, marine science, and Spanish at the University of Arizona. She plans to pursue a career in marine biology, a fitting goal for someone who grew up dreaming of the ocean from her desert hometown of Phoenix, AZ. 

Savanna Saunders at NAACP banquet

Saunders (right) at the 2022 Freedom Fund Banquet with Dr. Cheree Meeks (left) and Aaliyah Thompson-Mazzeo (center), Saunders' best friend and fellow Black Excellence Scholar.

“A while ago I had seen a documentary about one of the first black female marine biologists, which was a big inspiration for me. Growing up in a desert my whole life, I’ve always wanted to live next to an ocean,” said Saunders, “It’s really cool that science can open that door for me." 

One of the primary reasons that Saunders chose the W.A. Franke Honors College was because of the opportunity afforded to her by receiving the Garcia Scholarship, a generously endowed award given to honors students who exhibit academic excellence and a desire to pursue community service. Only a sophomore, Saunders is already making the most of her Franke experience. Within the Franke Honors college, Saunders is a member of the Black Excellence Scholars Program, which seeks to support and empower Black and African American Franke Honors students. 

“We’ve gone to a few events this semester; it’s been awesome to get together and build community with other black students at the honors college,” said Saunders.  

arizona ambassadors

The Arizona Ambassadors give official tours of Main Campus to prospective students.

Outside of honors, Saunders is a University of Arizona Ambassador and has recently joined Epsilon Eta, an environmental pre-professional co-fraternity. She is friends with some of the founders, and she wanted to join because of volunteering and professional development opportunities. Saunders is passionate about her identity as a scientist, but her interests span far beyond the subject. She is a ballet dancer of 16 years and has recently expanded her horizons in dance through hip-hop classes this semester at the University.  

“I prefer ballet as a performance, but hip-hop has been a fun party trick,” she remarked. 

Next semester, Saunders will be studying abroad in Barcelona. “I’m really excited to go back to Europe,” she said, reflecting on her experience abroad last summer as a part of the Honors First Year Trip. This will be her second study abroad adventure, one of the many perks of being a Garcia recipient. 

Meet Dorthea Stephenson: A Voice for Black Excellence in Classical Music 
Dorthea Stephenson with viola

Stephenson has been playing the viola for nearly a decade.

Dorthea Stephenson is a fourth year Franke Honors student pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Viola Performance at the Fred Fox School of Music. Like Saunders, Stephenson is a Garcia Scholar as well as a Black Excellence Scholar. “Both of these have been really rewarding to be a part of during my college experience,” said Stephenson.  

At Fred Fox, Stephenson has been a persistent advocate for representation and diversity within the classical music community. Stephenson’s identity as a black classical musician has informed her approach to her undergraduate studies. 

“This is an issue across the nation—of perpetuating that standard of white, European music/musicians in education,” remarked Stephenson. “It’s an issue within music schools that I would like to address.” 

Stephenson is a part of the 2022-23 JustArts Fellowship, an initiative working towards promoting diversity and inclusion within the College of Fine Arts. Her project specifically works with the directors of the college to compile a diverse repertoire of music to showcase musicians of all identities and backgrounds. In a similar vein, Stephenson is also a part of the String Project at Fred Fox, a weekly teacher-training program that brings music education to underprivileged kids in the Tucson community.   

When it comes to music, the lines between the personal and academic are blurred for Stephenson. So much of her life is spent listening to, practicing, and performing the viola. It is both her area of study and her beloved hobby. “As a music student, so much of my time is spent practicing,” said Stephenson. “It’s hard to find time outside of that.” 

University of Arizona Equestrian club

The 2022-23 University of Arizona Equestrian Club, which Stephenson is a part of.

And yet, between the hours spent fine tuning her viola performance and advocating for justice in the music community, Stephenson finds time for more. She is a part of the University of Arizona Equestrian Club and enjoys baking (lemon bars are her favorite). 

Stephenson will be graduating from the W.A. Franke Honors College in spring 2023 and, after graduation, hopes to get a chance to exhale—taking a gap year before eventually pursuing her DMA in grad school.