Family and human development graduate works to impact education gap

Abigail Duarte

This May, Abigail Duarte will graduate with her bachelor's degree from the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics.


Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Abigail Duarte’s journey at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University was guided by two themes: getting involved and giving back.

As a first-generation student, Duarte had to figure out of the intricacies of college by herself, but that didn’t stop her from experiencing all that she could as she pursued her bachelor’s degree from the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics.

Duarte tutored children through America Reads for three semesters, studied abroad, assisted on university research and interned at a children’s home in South Africa. She also created a club and was a member of multicultural sorority Kappa Delta Chi, which she credits with helping her feel connected on campus.

“It really makes campus feel a lot smaller than it is because once you join, you see people you know everywhere,” she said.

As Duarte prepares to graduate, she reflected on the impact The College has had on her life’s trajectory.

“My first class at ASU was intercultural communications. I learned about different cultures and languages, why doing one thing here isn’t OK somewhere else. I think back, and the fact that was my first class and now I’m leaving and going to another country, it just came full circle for me.”

Duarte answered some questions about her time at ASU and shared what she has planned next.

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

Answer: I studied abroad in Australia my second semester, sophomore year and while I was abroad, I did some volunteer work with kids. It was there that I realized "Oh, family and human development, that’s what I should do." I knew that I didn’t want to be a teacher and I was really passionate about the education gap that was happening, so that’s how I fell into family and human development.

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

A: Last summer I got the chance to go to South Africa and work at a children’s home. Being there really changed my perspective on things. I knew there was a difference of worlds, but I didn’t realize how big it was until I was there. That reaffirmed that I was doing the major that I wanted. Seeing the education gap, all the cultural differences, it really just inspired me to keep learning what I’m learning to be able to give back.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I live in Mesa so basically ASU is in my backyard. I’ve just always loved ASU; we’re an ASU family and it just seemed like the obvious choice to come here.

Q: What was your experience like as a first-generation student?

A: My parents went to school in Mexico so no one knew what it was like here. I had to figure out how to do financial aid, FAFSA, and scholarships all by myself. It was definitely a learning experience but I leaned a lot on my friends and the community I found at ASU who are very similar to me and also first-gen. We were able to help each other out.

My older brother came here for a year and then left and joined the military. For me, it was weird coming here because I’d always followed him and he’d show me what to do. Now the roles are reversed because my brother is out of the military and is a freshman while I’m a senior.

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

A: Professor Kim Updegraff; I’m one of her undergrad research assistants. When I went into that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get my master’s degree but once I worked with the team, they were all so passionate about what they were doing and the project. It really aligned with what I want to do and it made me realize I should get my master’s; if I want to make more of a difference I should get more education so I can be able to help more people. She and the whole team helped me and pushed me to want to do more. They were really inspiring and wanted me to go for it.

Q: Can you share more about working on the research project?

A: It’s called the ASU SIBS Project and we’re studying the relationship of siblings. It’s Hispanic-Latino based so I really relate to it. A lot of the families only speak Spanish and the kids, if they go to college they’d be first-gen so I was able to relate to them. Sometimes they’d ask me questions; one of the moms asked me about the mother-daughter program at ASU. That was really cool to be able to help them because that was me at one point.

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

A: Talk to your professors and ask for help. Your professors want you to succeed and if you’re struggling, they won’t know unless you go to them. Also, try to find your community within ASU because it just makes everything better: You have someone to lean on and you have people to go out and do fun things with. 

Q: What tips do you have for finding your community?

A: Getting involved, whether it’s looking for clubs you’re passionate about, getting involved in research projects or Greek life. ASU has over 1,000 clubs — there’s bound to be one that relates to what you like, and if not, you can create one. I created one — Aliento at ASU — with a friend so it’s definitely possible.   

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

A: Changemaker at ASU — that became the place where all of my friends would end up. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m going to the University of Manchester this fall to get my master’s in international development in poverty and education. It’s a yearlong program. While I’m there, I’ll be working on a project and at the end, we take that project to a (developing) country and see how it goes.

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

A: Education and equality. Personally, I would build a school in Africa where kids could learn and I could provide that higher education for them.

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