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Strong female role models inspire ASU grad to adapt to change and pursue her dreams

Monica Szeto

Monica Szeto is graduating with her undergraduate degree in biology from the ASU School of Life Sciences. Photo by Monica Szeto

April 29, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

Growing up in the suburbs of Phoenix, Monica Szeto could count on her father to be her main role model. She turned to him for examples of strength, integrity and bravery. But she didn’t have a strong female role model and didn’t find one on television or in other parts of her life. That is, until she came to Arizona State University. 

As she entered her freshman year, she knew she would choose a career in science. She had always been driven to it as a child. With an appreciation especially for physiology, Szeto decided to pursue a career in biology since it’s challenging and always changing as new research comes to light. 

While her courses were exciting, personal trials presented their own challenges during college. It was especially during those difficult times that Szeto turned to four women for inspiration. 

Szeto, who is graduating in May with a degree in biology from the School of Life Sciences, answered questions about her time at ASU.

Question: Was there a particular person, course or experience at ASU that inspired you in some way?

Answer: Wow! It is too hard to choose one person. Coming out of ASU, the most influential people I will always remember are the following people: Brenda Miller, Shannon Ringenbach, Katey Cooper and Sara Brownell.

It was only when I got to ASU that I was exposed to such strong women. Brenda [Miller], a physical therapist, inspires me because she treats all of her patients with genuine love and makes it a priority to make every person feel like they matter. She would never exclude a patient from clinical conversation, even if the patient were cognitively low-level. 

When I first met Shannon [Ringenbach], she inspired me because she was involved in so many great things at ASU, while also having a family life. She has a go-getter, businesswoman attitude that drives my own spirit. 

Katey was my support pillar throughout [my] undergraduate degree. Initially giving me career and college guidance, Katey [Cooper] has gained my respect and trust with personal issues during hard times. I felt like I could always turn to her and she would listen and try to understand me, instead of immediately judging me and writing me off.

Professor Sara [Brownell] is an example to me of a revolutionary woman who is a trailblazer in her field. She carries herself with strength and was another example of success for me when I needed someone to relate to and feel represented by.   

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: This is something I had learned before, but had forgotten somewhere in the middle of undergrad: Things can change. It took some hard times during my college years to learn to remember that. "Re-learning" that things can change has inspired me to keep hoping and has given me the strength to keep going. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU? 

A: Definitely a smart financial choice and I tended to do everything my sister did when I was in high school, so I followed her right into ASU. I'm glad I stayed because I ended up meetings all kinds of great people and not-so-great people who all nevertheless made me grow. Likewise for the opportunities and challenges I've encountered at ASU.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those students still in school?

A: Things can change, but change will usually take longer than you expect. But if you are determined and really want it, aren't afraid to go against what people are telling you and rather do what is best for you, and aren't afraid to question yourself, then you will get to where you need to go in life.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: Noble library is the best place for studying. They also have silent areas. I sometimes go to the music school when I get extremely stressed out. They have vines and a fountain, and if you go inside you can sit outside the studio and listen to people practice. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Volunteer for our community, work as a PT tech, review the sciences in prep for PT school, and treat myself very well mentally and physically.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Corrupt power/control of people who prey on sex-trafficking victims, youth and anyone who is not capable of defending themselves. 

Q: What obstacles did you face during your time here at ASU, and how did you overcome them?

A: For me, the two hardest logistical obstacles were time management and studying. I am an expert time-waster. Over the years, I've found that the solution to wasting time is to load your plate full so that you literally can have no time to waste or all the balls you're juggling will fall and you'll have to catch up.

I learned that the best way to learn is to quiz yourself on the material. It may seem like it takes longer, but it actually saves you time because it won't slip right out of your brain thus requiring many glances at the notes. 

Q: Were you facing any specific challenges before you came to ASU, and did your college experience change those challenges in some way?

A: I had some family issues before ASU that definitely led to internal struggles that I needed to sort out later on. My time during college definitely changed the shape of those issues. I got to spend time away from my family. That time helped me to realize what had been going wrong, what parts of myself I needed to heal from and grow from, what and who I needed to give up, and it ultimately helped me to realize that I am not responsible for keeping other people breathing and happy. 

Everyone has his or her own life to live. Blood doesn't make family, and things you always thought were permanent usually never are. And that's OK. It just makes me appreciate whatever I have going on for me in this moment. It has actually made me live more and take more good risks, because things don't have to be perfect or forever. It made me realize and not feel ashamed that my top priority was myself and how I wanted to live my life, because it is my life. At the end of the day, at the end of relationships, at the end of life, I'm all I've got. 

Q: What are you looking forward to most after graduation?

A: So many things! Going to PT school, gaining financial independence, treating myself, utilizing my skills to raise the community and rise in my field.

Q: What is one really special moment or memory during your time at ASU that you will always remember after graduation?

A: When I was a freshman, I was a couple years into a journey of healing and growth. This journey was one in which I began to dedicate my life to reaching my full potential and uncovering the woman I've always been and wanted to be inside me. I had this very strong feeling that at the end of these four years, I would be an incredible, strong, kind, and powerful woman. At 21, I obviously have so much more greatness that still lies uncovered inside of me. Nevertheless, I can't even describe how wonderful it feels to stand there on the other side of four years, remembering the person I was, remembering what I felt and went through during college, and looking back now at the harvesting stage. I am truly excited for the great things I will continue to do in the future, and the better and stronger of a person I will continue to develop into.

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