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Endurance and passion pay off as mom of two earns master’s degree

Graduate juggled family and school life for 11 years to earn two degrees from ASU

Kara Barron

Kara Barron earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees from ASU. She often includes her husband while collecting plant specimens. The couple recently traveled to the San Pedro River area in southern Arizona for a collections outing. Photo by Kara Barron

December 05, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates

There were times Kara Barron wanted to quit. And there were times the mother of two felt like she was straddling an impossible fence between school and home all by herself.

But by learning how to persevere, she made it. Barron is graduating this fall with her Master of Science in plant biology and conservation — something she’s been interested in since middle school.

Barron is a returning Arizona State University student. In 2007, she began working on her bachelor’s degree in plant biology and at the time, her children were only ages 2 and 4. Now that she is completing her master’s degree, her kids are 13 and 15. She’s had to juggle dinners, driving, homework help and daily family activities with her own homework and courses. With her husband, John, helping out and by sticking with it, she was able to complete both of her degrees.

“It has been a challenge balancing school, work and family, but I am extremely lucky because I have the support of my family,” said Barron. “Our botanical community is also super supportive. I couldn't have done it without that support.

"(My children) are glad to have me in a more relaxed state now that this is coming to an end and they are happy to miss school to attend my graduation," Barron said with a laugh.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I have been interested in plants ever since I was in middle school. I became interested in the Wiccan religion when I found a book about it while browsing through a bookstore. It is a nature-based religion, so of course healing with plants was discussed. It really got me thinking about my surroundings and plants, in particular.

That is when I really began to understand the importance of plants in every aspect of human life. Plants are taken for granted and generally seen as a backdrop but if there were no plants, then there would be no animals.

This particular degree program caught my attention because I was volunteering with the Central Arizona Conservation Alliance to conduct a floristic inventory for Cave Creek Regional Park. A floristic inventory is a catalog of all the plant species that occur in a given area. My task was to wander the park, take pictures of and collect plants in flower and fruit, record information about their habitat and associated species, and then take the pressed specimens back to the herbarium to be mounted and placed into the collection. I led other volunteers on outings with me, too.

Someone told me about the program and mentioned that since I was already doing this work, I should also be getting my degree. Dr. Juliet Stromberg agreed to take me on as a student so I enrolled.

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

A: Learning about the science behind the genetic modification of plants was an eye-opener for me. It is one of those hot button issues that I was starkly opposed to until I took an applied genetics class. While there are some legitimate issues surrounding genetic modification, the science of it no longer bothers me. Instead, I am aghast at the ability of companies to be allowed to patent these modifications even though they are biological in nature. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I am an Arizona native and I love the Sonoran Desert. It is my home.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: The most important lesson I learned at ASU is perseverance. I'm not sure that I can pin that on any one professor, but I could say that my entire committee taught me that. They believed in me and pushed me, each in their own ways. A big "thank you" and much gratitude to all of them: Dr. Juliet Stromberg, Dr. Kathleen Pigg, Elizabeth Makings, and Dr. Kimberlie McCue.  

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

A: Don't let yourself get isolated. It is too easy to do. Join a club or go to the lab meetings if you are part of or can be part of an active lab group. Find the people you can nerd out with and stay involved.

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

A: I really enjoyed studying, reading or just walking around the "secret garden." This is the courtyard tucked between Dixie Gammage and West Hall. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am currently working on a pilot program to increase the availability of native plant materials for Sonoran Desert restoration and other projects with the Central Arizona Conservation Alliance at the Desert Botanical Garden, the city of Phoenix, the Arizona Columbine Garden Club, Tovrea Carraro Society and the Arizona Native Plant Society. The plan is for this pilot to take off into a self-sustaining program for our region that will increase the diversity of species available to include those that large producers may not find profitable for various reasons.

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

A: Plant conservation! I'm sure that answer surprised you. Haha! What might surprise you, though, is the fact that plants make up more than 50 percent of the listed rare endangered species in the U.S. but receive less than 10 percent of the federal funding available for conservation efforts.

Q: What’s something you are most proud of during your time at ASU?

A: I am proud that I did it! I made it through and I am doing what I am passionate about.

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