Biology grad embraces dual role as animal educator and social activist
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.
Ashton Grove knew early on what to focus on in college. Volunteering with the Phoenix Zoo while in high school helped steer Grove toward studying biology, and working with animals in some capacity became a goal that was clearly within reach.
However, embracing change and new experiences at Arizona State University became an important part of college life. Many unexpected opportunities arose and they began to embrace new roles in society and on campus — roles that would push political boundaries, define personal goals, and even foster new friendships with trusted faculty members.
Grove, from Glendale, Arizona, will be graduating with a bachelor's in biology from the School of Life Sciences.
Question: Were you facing any specific challenges before you came to ASU, and did your college experience change those challenges in some way?
Answer: Before I came to ASU, I was struggling a lot with the role I wanted to play in our society, and my experiences in college have done a great job of teaching me about things that I want to help change.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: While at ASU, there were a lot of opportunities for me to be politically active, and I discovered that I am able to participate in communities that are working incredibly hard to challenge systemic oppressions and dismantle them. I learned that living a politically active life is important to me.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I transferred to ASU because there are a lot of resources here, the science programs are incredible, and the small-town atmosphere of my previous school was negatively impacting my mental health.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: My best piece of advice would be to never define yourself by your GPA. Grades are not a defining feature of who you are, and they are not an accurate measurement of your ability to learn or your ability to be an important person.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: I studied and spent a lot of time on the third floor of the Student Services Building. The outdoor seating on the roof of the second floor is a really quiet spot.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I plan to spend the next few years gaining more experience working directly with exotic animals, as well as participating in activism for the underprivileged communities in Arizona, and continuing my job as an informal educator at the Phoenix Zoo.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would use $40 million to tackle transgender health care in the U.S. There are so many trans people out there who do not have access to the care they need, mentally and physically. I would use the money to provide mental health resources, funding towards hormone replacement therapy and surgery, clothing and other life-affirming necessities to transgender folks in need.
Q: Was there a particular person, course or experience at ASU that inspired you in some way?
A: Dr. Sara Brownell is one particular person who has inspired me at ASU. She does incredible and necessary research into how best to make classrooms inclusive for students who might have needs different from those of the “normalized” student (or who the education system think the “normalized” student is). Learning about Dr. Brownell’s work validates students’ importance in a classroom, a perspective that I had not particularly been experiencing, and one that pushed me to take a more active approach towards my own learning.
Q: What obstacles did you face during your time here at ASU, and how did you overcome them?
A: I have faced multiple obstacles here at ASU. My depression and anxiety have made it incredibly challenging to pass my classes. However, in the past year, I have been able to manage my mental health in a way that enables me to spend more energy on school and have more discipline for my studying.
Additionally, I discovered that I wanted to physically transition and pursued that while I was here at ASU. There is a far way for ASU to go before they have comprehensive inclusivity, but I have been seeing a lot of trans students and queer faculty taking on the challenge that is changing the systems already put in place.
However, the student health care plan was instrumental in helping me feel positively towards my future.
Because of these two obstacles, my ability to succeed here at ASU was hindered, and I have had to repeat a lot of classes. But the faculty members I have found to form relationships with have been incredibly supportive in offering resources, reaching out, and providing support and opportunities. Their help and support is one of the main reasons I will be able to graduate on time.
Q: What are you looking forward to most after graduation?
A: I am looking forward to the time and energy I will now be able to spend on my hobbies and relationships, and on participating in more activism to spread acceptance and understanding.
Q: What is one really special moment or memory during your time at ASU that you will always remember after graduation?
A: I’ll always remember the time my partner and I kissed in front of the anti-gay protestors by the MU.