First-gen college student grateful for diverse perspectives

May 2, 2019

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

Dulce Parra-Barrera, a multilingual first-generation Arizona State University student, will be putting her ease with languages to good use soon. Graduating ASU student Dulce Parra-Barrera / Courtesy photo What graduating English linguistics major Dulce Parra-Barrera learned at ASU forever broadened her horizons. "When I came to ASU I was surprised at how international the campus was," she said. "Being exposed to various cultures, and my friends being from different backgrounds than me, really opened my eyes to varying perspectives." Download Full Image

Parra-Barrera is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English (linguistics) this spring and has secured a position with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, a teaching exchange managed by the government of Japan.

It’s a dream come true for this native of Goodyear, Arizona, who had always hoped to teach English abroad. She has prepared herself well; in addition to her linguistics degree, she’s also completing a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

Academic credentials in hand, Parra-Barrera will be also employing a surfeit of practical experience in her teaching. She studied abroad in Seoul, South Korea, during her sophomore year, even learning Korean before leaving the U.S. That won’t be true for her Japanese immersion, however: “Japanese is quite intimidating to me,” she admitted.

Parra-Barrera completed several internships through the Department of English, including a stint teaching English to Major League Baseball players. She described how her language chops came in handy working with the San Diego Padres. “There was a student here and there who wasn't from Latin America, but since most were — and I am a native Spanish speaker — communication was not an issue,” she explained. “It was my first teaching experience after having taken TESOL courses, so it was interesting to put what we spoke of in class into action.

“I loved seeing when the players would tell us stories of them effectively using their English. It made me realize that I really do enjoy what I'm studying and that it can make a difference. It was a really rewarding experience, because the players are such big sweethearts. Honestly, I had never cared for baseball, but now I just follow the team's social media to see them progress.”

English’s director of internships Ruby Macksoud praised Parra-Barrera’s initiative and eagerness for adventure. “Dulce is the ultimate 'yes' student — always open to new experiences, always up for academic and professional challenges, and never one to close a door to an opportunity.”

We spoke with Parra-Barrera to find out more about her journey.

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

Answer: I remember growing up not knowing what linguistics was, but I knew I wanted to be able to live in another country. I had discussed the idea of teaching English abroad since sixth grade, and one of my friends enlightened me on how linguistics correlated to that dream job in high school. When I finally took my “Intro to Linguistics” course at ASU, I realized it was definitely the route for me. It wasn't necessarily an "aha" moment of realizing I wanted to study in the field; it felt more like a relief that I had picked something I found interesting.

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

A: I came from a high school that was largely filled with minorities; like, we only had two Caucasians in our graduating class. As a Hispanic that grew up around other Hispanics, I was under an impression that most folks had gone through the same milestones and struggles that I had. Of course, that's never the case even between Hispanics, but there was that solidarity and I no longer had that. So, when I came to ASU I was surprised at how international the campus was. I think being exposed to various cultures, and my friends being from different backgrounds than me, really opened my eyes to varying perspectives.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Honestly, as a first-generation college student I had no guidance in college applications or the like. I had applied to other places, but as I had decided before even applying that I would be traveling after college, I felt that being close to my family was important to me. The second I decided I wanted to stay near my family as long as I'm attending school, ASU was the only choice.

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

A: Ruby Macksoud is definitely the professor that taught me the most academically and in regards to skills outside the classroom as well. I think the most important lesson she's taught me though is that no teacher is perfect. As someone who wants to teach in the future and as a student I think it’s something that everyone should be aware of. We're all human and there's always room for improvement. If you mess up one day, tomorrow is another day and you can tackle that problem in another way if needed.

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

A: You don't have to follow one path to succeed, and it's OK to change your mind because there are endless possibilities to achieve what you deem success.

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

A: I found my friends and I meeting up at the dining halls constantly as well as our dorm rooms. The fact that we all lived on campus made it easy to meet up on campus as well. During finals I'd end up at Hayden Library all the time, as well as in between classes.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I was accepted to the JET Program, so if everything goes well, I will be an English teaching assistant in Japan.

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

A: If I had $40 million, I know that it would not necessarily fix the problem I'd like to tackle, but I'd want to give it to the Arizona public school system. I really do believe teachers should be paid more and if I could at least make a dent in assisting some schools with that, I would gladly hand over my $40 million.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English


2019 honors graduate's passion is in the stars

May 2, 2019

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

A high school class schedule snafu led Gabriela Huckabee to a scientific discipline that would become her passion.  School of Earth and Space Exploration spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Gabriela Huckabee. Gabriela Huckabee. Download Full Image

Huckabee will graduate from Arizona State University on May 7 with a Bachelor of Science degree in astrophysics with honors from Barrett, The Honors College, and the Dean’s Medal from the School of Earth and Space Exploration. She completed her degree in three years.

“When I was in high school, I was placed into an astronomy class by accident. My adviser, who was supposed to make my schedule based on my preferences, gave me classes that I didn't request and refused to change my schedule because I wasn't a senior,” Huckabee said.

“I had always been interested in astronomy, because space is cool. I never thought of it as a career path because I had been led to believe that only engineers made money in today's economy. In that class, my teacher fanned the flames of my passion for astrophysics and physical sciences,” she said.

Huckabee came to ASU from Fairfax, Virginia, as a National Merit Scholar. She was a Sundial Physics Scholar and a mentor and facilitator for the program. She also was the recipient of a joint ASU-NASA Space Grant fellowship supporting undergraduate students working on research with faculty members. The ASU-NASA Space Grant funded Huckabee’s research on galaxy outflows and galactic magnetic fields.

She was a research assistant in ASU’s Cosmology Initiative, a partnership between the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Physics focusing on producing groundbreaking planetary and space research. In 2018, with the support of a National Science Foundation grant, she conducted research in Germany using a Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) to collect data. Her Barrett Honors College thesis, directed by Dr. Rolf Jansen, was based on LOFAR data to study magnetic fields. 

“The biggest opportunity I had was the chance to be a part of Sundial, an inclusive community of physics and SESE students that starts out as an early start program and continues into the school year as a fall and spring semester class. The friends that I made there, with people in my academic year, upperclassmen, freshmen, grad students and faculty helped me feel like I belonged in my major and that I could succeed. I have a strong network that expanded to other universities through the Access Network that Sundial is a part of, and I have relied on that network for help and advice regarding research, grad school and personal support,” she said.

A thesis she did for SESE, titled “The Effect of Nonequilibrium Chemistry and Nonuniform Metallicity on Ion Abundances in Galaxy Outflow Hydrodynamic Simulations,” looked at simulations of galaxy outflows in the circumgalactic medium, a source for a galaxy's star-forming fuel.

"Gabby's work is an important contribution to understanding the dynamics of the circumgalactic medium, which is so critical to our understanding of how galaxies behave," said Joe Foy, honors faculty fellow who served as Huckabee’s thesis director. "She has done great work, and I look forward to seeing what exciting contributions she will make to the field in the future." 

Gabriela Huckabee

Gabriela Huckabee at the site of Low Frequency Array equipment in Effelsberg, Germany. Photo courtesy of Gabriela Huckabee

Huckabee’s future includes beginning a PhD in physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz this fall.

“I'm excited to do cosmology research!” she said.

We caught up with Huckabee to get her thoughts about her undergraduate experience at ASU.

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

Answer: My high school astronomy teacher convinced me to go to an assembly where an astronaut would be speaking. Mike Massimino spoke to us about what his high school and college experience was like, and what it was like to work for NASA and fly aboard the International Space Station. After the presentation, I talked to him and my teacher, Mrs. Hennig, about potential future careers in astronomy. They both encouraged me to pursue astronomy if that was really something that I was interested in, and I have pursued astrophysics ever since.

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

A: Math is a more powerful tool than people give it credit for. In high school I really didn't like math and I thought I was pretty bad at it. Through my physics classes, I developed a better appreciation for it.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU is very generous with its financial aid, and of all of the schools I had applied to, it was the most affordable for me. My reasons for choosing ASU weren't that exciting — I just needed to be able to afford tuition and the cost of living, and I wanted to see somewhere new. Ultimately, however, after I accepted admission, then visited the campus and saw the SESE program and spoke to some of the professors, I knew that I had made the right choice.

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

A: Dr. Anna Zaniewski taught me that it is OK to fail. When encountering obstacles and setbacks, you learn and you improve, and in the end, things will work out if you keep trying. Teaching people to be resilient and to persevere in difficult times will allow them to grow.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school?

A: Work in a group, start your homework two days before it's due instead of one and just go to class. Even if you feel like you're learning nothing, you pick up more when you're physically listening to a lesson than if you're still in bed watching Netflix.

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

A: I really like the fifth floor of the Barry M. Goldwater Center for Science and Engineering, especially the office of the Cosmology Initiative group. My friends and I would do homework and research there, and I'd get to hang out with the grad students and researchers. They're a great community to be a part of! I also liked the third floor and above of the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 4. The crater carpet is great for group projects and naps. Also, sometimes people in suits show up and get good food catered. They typically don't mind if undergrads snatch appetizers and brownies.

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

A: I don't know if $40 million would be enough to do this, but I'd try to improve universal access to a quality education. Everyone should have equal access to the same standard of education, regardless of income, gender, location, ethnicity (or) any other factor. By educating people, you create more problem-solvers with the intellectual resources they need to enact change.

Nicole Greason

Director of Marketing and Public Relations , Barrett, The Honors College