Motivated by national tragedies, first-gen sophomore dreams of future as a changemaker

October 7, 2020

Arizona State University sophomore Halle Aquino was born in 2001, on the heels of 9/11. Just 11 years later, when she was in sixth grade, 26 people tragically died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Unbeknownst to her, these devastating events and others would shape her path forever.

“I remember the day that the Sandy Hook shooting happened in 2012, I was watching the news and I couldn’t comprehend how something so cruel could happen at an elementary school just like mine,” Aquino said. “And then the Las Vegas shooting at Mandalay Bay in 2017 struck more close to home because my family always traveled there when I was younger. That was the breaking point for me. It motivated me to set myself out on this path and actually do the work that will make change.” Arizona State University sophomore Halle Aquino, a first-generation college student studying political science and public policy. Download Full Image

For Aquino, change means pursuing dual bachelor’s degrees in political science and public policy so she can one day tackle a variety of issues on a local and national scale. As a first-generation college student from a small town near Tucson, she said the opportunity to attend a university wasn’t guaranteed; earning several scholarships including the PepsiCo Foundation Scholarship, the New American University Scholar award and the President Barack Obama Scholar award provided the financial support she needed to go to ASU.

“If it weren't for the scholarships that I received, I would not be here,” she said. “I knew from the get-go in my freshman year of high school that if I didn’t work hard enough to get any academic scholarships, I would not be going to college. So I made that a priority and I put school over everything. I'm so glad that I did and I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to come here and fulfill my dream of being a college student.”

In The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Early Start program, an immersive two-week-long university experience for incoming first-year students, she was able to create a solid foundation for future success. Upon starting college, she said she was unsure of what to expect, but the program provided her a plethora of advice and resources on how to succeed as a student and as a growing professional within the field of political science.

When she’s not in class, Aquino works as a customer support peer with ASU’s Career and Professional Development Services. She said she finds it rewarding to help people of all backgrounds navigate their way to success. Along with being a full-time student and working as a customer support peer, she also interns with Undergraduate Student Government where she assists directors, contributes ideas for improvement at ASU, and ensures the student body is able to express their needs and concerns.

Aquino said she tries to push herself to do things outside her comfort zone, like participating in weekly meetings for BridgeASU, a student organization committed to debating the issues that face the U.S. while challenging conventional approaches to argumentation. 

“It's not always fun getting yourself to do things that you don't want to do, that you're scared of or anxious about, it can definitely be very challenging. But it is the most rewarding thing you can do and it will only push you to grow and be your best, highest self,” she said.

She has found herself in other unpredictable situations during her time at ASU, including attending classes during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, she moved back home to finish the spring semester online and said it was a surprisingly positive, transformative experience for her.

“Without this switch to online learning, I would have never known that I am equally as strong of a learner online and in-person. I ended up doing better academically in the spring than I did in my first semester,” she said. “The time I had to myself outside of school during the lockdown was the most reflective experience I've ever had in my life. There had never been a time for me to really sit back and evaluate the progress I’ve made in my 18 years of living. My life had always been so fast-paced that being able to rest and take time for myself was something I never truly learned to do and value.”

Although she is unsure where her path will lead professionally, she said wherever she ends up she hopes to be a catalyst for change.

“I hope to one day end up in a position where I'm not only happy in what I'm doing but also where I am a changemaker for a large group of people,” she said. “I don't know what that will look like exactly quite yet, but I just want to know I am doing the best that I can for the greater good of society.”

Emily Balli

Communications Specialist and Lead Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

4 ASU students awarded Killam Fellowship for study at Canadian universities

October 8, 2020

Four outstanding students in Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University are recipients of the Killam Fellowship for undergraduate study in Canada next spring.

The Killam Fellowships Program provides an opportunity for exceptional undergraduate students from universities in Canada and the United States to spend either one semester or a full academic year as an exchange student in the other country. The program is administered by the Foundation for Educational Exchange between Canada and the United States, also known as Fulbright Canada, a binational, nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization. Download Full Image

The program offers a cash award of $5,000 U.S. per semester, along with an allowance to offset the cost of health insurance.

The program hosts all new Killam Fellows at an orientation in Ottawa each fall and again at a seminar in Washington, D.C., each spring. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, travel will depend on government restrictions and the policies and practices of host universities.

“It is remarkable to have so many of our applicants selected for this award. It’s a testament to Barrett’s commitment to international exchange and service,” said Kyle Mox, Barrett associate dean for national scholarships and director of the Office of National Scholarships Advisement.

It’s also a testament to the attention the students gave to completing their applications, which included having their proposed program of study, personal statement, record of academic achievement and letters of reference judged by a committee charged with nominating students for the fellowship. 

“This is a difficult application, and I couldn’t be prouder of the amount of hard work and effort that these students put into the process,” Mox said, adding that the Killam Fellowship is a first step for many students who apply for other prestigious awards like the Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright or NSF Graduate Research Fellowship programs.

Here are the 2020–21 Killam Fellows from ASU:

Julie Kaplan

Julie Kaplan is majoring in finance and global politics with a certificate in cross-sector leadership.

“I am honored to join the Fulbright community of leaders and researchers. I’m looking forward to actively participating in the distinguished Fulbright alumni network in the United States, Canada and around the word,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan is planning to research microfinance and economic empowerment at the University of Prince Edward Island in the Canadian Maritimes.

She developed an interest in microfinance through her work with Arizona Microcredit Initiative, a nonprofit that assists struggling small-business owners through education, microloans and consulting. Kaplan served as director of AMI from 2017 to 2019, leading a team of 17 that organized 35 hourlong business development workshops teaching lean business, business model canvassing and the value of proposition design.

“It’s been incredible over the past three years helping small-business owners grow and achieve their missions,” Kaplan said.   

“I am looking forward to studying international business at UPEI. I will study and conduct research on how small businesses are run both in Canada and around the world. This will give me a more robust understanding of the global business landscape,” Kaplan said.

“In the future, I would love to work within global microfinance to help lift motivated entrepreneurs out of poverty and afford them opportunities to create businesses and jobs,” she added.

Cate Morenzoni

Catherine Morenzoni is double majoring in sociology and justice studies with a certificate in energy and sustainability.

“I’m still in shock about being chosen for the Killam Fellowship. When I first considered applying for the program, it seemed like such a long shot to be selected. It is really an honor to be chosen and I could not be more excited to begin the fellowship,” she said.

Morenzoni will study at the University of Calgary. She will focus on the oil and gas industry in the province of Alberta, and Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

“I am completing my honors thesis on energy system development on Indigenous lands in the United States and Canada, so I’m excited to use my time at University of Calgary getting a new, up-close perspective on these topics,” she said.

Anusha Natajaran

Anusha Natarajan is majoring in sociology and history with minors in Spanish and certificates in human rights and internal studies.

“I feel so excited and honored. I am grateful to receive this opportunity to be immersed and learn more about Canadian culture and history,” Natarajan said.

Natarajan will study sociology, history, foreign policy and human rights law at Carleton University in Ottawa.

“Human rights has become a recent passion of mine. I did a lot of government and international relations work throughout high school, and I realized how vital human rights are and how more work needs to be done,” she said.

“Figuring out solutions on how to tackle human rights abuses around the world has motivated me to do further research and volunteer work in this field,” she added.

Elizabeth Whiteman

Elizabeth Whiteman is majoring in sustainability with a minor in business and a certificate in socially engaged practices in art and design.

“I am more than thrilled to have the opportunity to be a part of this program. I have a feeling it is going to be the biggest adventure of my life thus far,” Whiteman said.

Whiteman will study socially engaged art for environmental activism and urban sustainability at York University in Toronto.

“My focus is on how socially engaged art can be used to break down the social and cultural boundaries that are currently prohibiting meaningful conversation about solutions to global climate change,” she said.

“I always knew I wanted to study socially engaged art. From a young age, the power of art to move people, to bring people together, and to create real change in communities really shaped my worldview. As I became more aware of the urgency of the climate crisis, I began to develop a passion for sustainability. And as I learned more about all the ways environmental issues are linked to social issues of economic disparity and systemic racism, I knew I had found the subject that would be my life's work,” she added.

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College