Triple major first-in-family to graduate from college

Grad advises planning ahead, knowing your options, making friends and finding a good adviser

May 6, 2019

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

Erika Flores is the oldest of four children, born into a close-knit Mexican American family. While they did not attend college, her parents encouraged all of their children to do so. And Flores said she always knew she would pursue higher education. Erika Flores Erika Flores is graduating from the School of Life Sciences with a BS in biological sciences; from the College of Health Solutions with a BS in health science; and from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with a BS in psychology. Photo courtesy of Erika Flores Download Full Image

But what she didn’t know was how much she would love it.

“I never planned to have three majors, it's just something that organically happened as I took some classes,” said Flores. “I had changed my major a few times during my freshman year before picking health science since it had all of the prerequisites for medical school. I added the biological sciences major after I took genetics because I wanted to learn more about biology. And when I took virology with Dr. (Brenda) Hogue, I enjoyed it so much, that I knew that I made the right choice. I later added psychology after being involved in two research labs in the psychology departments!”

This spring, she becomes the first in her family to graduate from college. And she has set the bar quite high for her younger siblings — one is attending ASU, another is graduating high school and the youngest will be a high school sophomore next fall. 

In addition to taking on the course load of three majors, Flores worked up to 30 hours each week in two ASU psychology research labs and also volunteered at Phoenix Children’s Hospital in the oncology and psychiatry departments. As a commuter student, she spent lots of time traveling between three ASU campuses, and her work took her off-campus. 

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

Answer: I had enjoyed science in high school, and I knew that I wanted to go into the health field. That is when I decided on my health science major. When I took genetics at ASU, I became interested in learning more about biology, and that’s when I decided to add the biological sciences major. When I took virology with Dr. Hogue, I enjoyed it so much that I knew that I made the right choice.

When I was volunteering at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, in the inpatient Psychology and Psychiatry department, I enjoyed it so much I decided to minor in psychology. However, after I was offered positions as a research assistant in two psychology labs, I decided to major in psychology as well. 

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

A: I have learned that there are many different paths that people can take to get to their end goal. Not everyone takes the same journey to get to the same destination — and that's OK. It’s always really interesting to learn about the different twists and turns that people have taken.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Proximity. I’ve lived in Arizona pretty much my entire life. As a Latina, the importance of family has always been ingrained and emphasized. After high school, I knew that I wanted to stay near my family. And options. ASU is such a big school and I like to dabble in many different things, so I knew that they would have a major that I wanted. I like having my options!

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

A: I respect all of my professors at ASU, as they all had something they contributed. However, I especially respect my female professors — especially those who are contributing to science; they’re a real inspiration! I think that Dr. (Phuong Thao) Ha and Dr. (Sandra) Losoya from the Psychology Department really impacted me and gave me a lot of great opportunities!

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

A: Know your options. Like I’ve said earlier, there are many different paths that people can take, so it’s important to try new things — you never know what opportunities are waiting!

Find an adviser that you like, and make sure that you keep going to the same one! They are a lot of help. Ryan from College of Health Solutions, Tara from Psychology and Ivy from School of Life Sciences were the advisers I usually went to.

Try to plan ahead as much as you can! I had become a triple major pretty late in my academic career (during my final year), but because I was very particular in the way that I picked my classes, I was able to finish up my last two majors during my final year. 

Don’t rush to graduate. Take advantage of all of the resources and opportunities. Do research, internships, volunteer, join clubs, study abroad!  

Make friends, especially within your field. I think it’s a lot more fun to go through things with people who understand what you’re going through. And, you can always help each other out. If you feel like you don’t know how to make friends, you can always just start a study group in a class — I’ve made many long-term friends this way!  

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on applying to and eventually hope to go to medical school. I also plan on doing more research but within the biology or microbiology fields. I also want to do more volunteer working with those who are underprivileged and underrepresented — especially among women and children.

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

A: I think that I would invest that money towards education. I think that by investing in education, we allow more people to become productive members of society and they could hopefully contribute towards solving other world problems. 

Q: What are some challenges you faced while earning your degree?

A: During my first few semesters at ASU, I felt like I was stumbling through my classes. Then, for a few semesters, I felt like I was sprinting too hard when higher education is actually a marathon. In other words, it took me a while to get the hang of college; there was a while where I wasn’t performing as well as I wanted or where I felt like I was taking too many classes — all while having a job. This became easier as I became more focused on my goal, learned better study habits and better time management. Having a flexible job helped too.

There was also the “hurdle” of trying to navigate the whole college thing, while not know anyone who had recently done it. I always had a list of questions that I would ask my academic advisers, but I made sure to have a general idea of the answers by looking it up online and double-checking with the adviser. 

The triple-major thing was a huge hurdle as well. There was a lot of paperwork. I had to have credit overloads. I had to fill out petitions with three different colleges for the concurrent degrees, which had to be filled out by three different advisers. There are many rules about credit overlapping that we had to be careful about. I was told that there was a chance that not all of the majors would be approved. This was really scary since I had already taken a bulk of the classes by the time I started the petition process. Again, I’m very grateful for the three advisers that I mentioned above.

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

A: Graduating! I’m excited to make my family and myself proud. And the fact I was able to bounce back after a rough start. 

Q: Anything else?

A: Humility and humbleness go a long way. You can learn something from anyone. Don’t feel like you have to know everything. It’s OK to ask questions and ask for help. Don’t compare yourself to anyone, but yourself. Just keep moving forward and you might be surprised where you’ll end up — I was!

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


ASU becomes academic home for graduating transfer student

Biological sciences major follows professor’s advice and enters PhD program

May 6, 2019

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

When Brianne Jones was a college junior, she was searching for a new academic home. In her first two years pursuing a college degree, she attended two other schools — a small liberal arts college in Texas and a community college in the Phoenix metro area. Brianne Jones Brianne Jones is graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences (cell, genetics and developmental biology). She made ASU her home after starting her college experience at two other schools. Photo by Brianne Jones/Facebook Download Full Image

Tired of moving from school to school and losing course credits along the way because they didn’t transfer, she decided to apply to an in-state university.

She originally wanted to go to the University of Arizona to be with her best friend but had a job she didn’t want to leave and applied to Arizona State University instead.

“Personally, I think it was very difficult for me at some points to maintain the drive to continue my degree program. I feel that in undergraduate programs, STEM degrees especially, the courses can be timed pretty strictly so it can be difficult if there’s any deviation,” said Jones. “However, I am excited to announce I am still managing to graduate in four years. I am unsure how it worked out, but I am glad that I saw my interests through and stuck with it.”

Jones is graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences (cell, genetics and developmental biology).

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

Answer: I’m not sure exactly what class it was, but a few semesters ago I remember asking a professor a question about course content and receiving an unsatisfactory response — that it was still actively being researched. Before that moment, I never really thought about how much we don’t know about living organisms and the world we inhabit.

I wasn’t sure which research area I wanted to pursue, but I thought that I wanted to help leave one less question for the students after me. I don’t think that I have to make some famous discovery and I am not under the grand illusion that I can answer every question I ask, but it doesn’t hurt to try!

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

A: I don’t think it was necessarily something I learned at ASU, but my experience at ASU definitely helped reinforce what an amazing opportunity it is that I’ve been given to be able to go to college and further my education. Not everyone has this opportunity, so I think it is important to take a second to just be grateful and make the most out of your education.

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

A: In the fall of 2018, I took developmental biology. It was a co-taught class, and one of the professors was Dr. Jason Newbern. I remember thinking about pursuing graduate school and I scheduled office hours to go in and seek his guidance.

I only met with him once and with a class as large as BIO 351, I am unsure if he would even remember me, but he gave me some advice I have since told to others and that I tell myself frequently: When faced with two options, you should weigh them and make a choice. Your choice is made off of the information that you had at the time and you did the most with what you had. Once the choice is made, you keep propelling yourself forwards and don’t look back. The worst thing you can do is to regret something and become stuck. You have to trust that you did what you thought was the most beneficial to you at the position you were in at the time and focus on how that will affect you moving forward.

This advice was very beneficial in helping me decide my plans after graduation, applying for graduate school, and eventually choosing a graduate school after I received multiple acceptances.

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

A: It’s OK not to know exactly what you want to do. I feel like this has recently become popular advice, but it’s 100% true. People think that everyone has their career path outlined the minute they step on campus, and that simply isn’t true for everyone. I think as long as you’re actively seeking guidance from peers, professors and advisers you are bound to come across a program or career that will spark your interest and propel you to success.

Q: What did ASU provide to you that you think you could not have found anywhere else?

A: Opportunity. I think that ASU came to me at such an odd time. As I mentioned, I am a transfer student, but I had originally planned on going to University of Arizona because my best friend was there. I ended up applying to ASU in a split decision moment because I had a job in Phoenix I did not want to leave. Looking back, I am so glad that I applied and attended ASU. I think that the mentorship I have received from faculty and administration was the push I needed to stay motivated and finish my degree program.

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

A: I really enjoy Armstrong Hall. It was a recent discovery for me, but I find that it has everything I’m looking for. There is a place for collaboration or solitude, and I don’t feel as cramped as I do at Noble or Hayden. It’s a really nice open space that doesn’t make me feel boxed in, which is really nice when trying to be productive.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I have been accepted to Washington State University in the fall to pursue a doctoral degree in molecular biosciences. I realized in my junior year that my passion for learning and the life sciences has not waned, and I thought that I owed it to myself to pursue whatever trajectory that satisfied my curiosity.

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

A: I’m honestly proud that I figured out some next steps for after I receive my degree in a few weeks. I read so many articles about recent grads not having jobs or cannot figure out what they want to do after graduation, and I am extremely grateful to have found my passion and that I will actively be pursuing it in the near future.

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

A: I would have to invest in wastewater remediation treatment. I am currently doing undergraduate research at the Polytechnic campus with Dr. Pete Lammers at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI), which serves as a national test bed for algae for the purpose of investigating its potential. While biofuel is a heavily researched topic with algae, wastewater remediation is also a viable option because the algae could help remove the harsh compounds in water (such as runoff from agricultural fertilizers) and release clean oxygen into the environment. While my scientific passion does not lie in sustainability, I think that everyone should care about our environment and taking actions to preserve it for our next generations.

Q: Are there any particular people who really supported you on your journey?

A: My SOLS adviser Serena Christianson is amazing. She was the first adviser I met when I transferred and has really been with me throughout my entire ASU experience. I feel that she has tried her best to assist in my success throughout my time on campus and has been there when I needed her!

Additionally, microbiology TA Julie Bethany Rakes was such a kind and supportive human being. She is a current graduate student and was great to talk to about graduate school as a whole and what her perspective was like. I really appreciated her honesty and later assistance. I think that being able to talk to someone in a position you hope to enter into holds a lot of weight, and I just want to thank her for always finding time to answer my frantic emails, even when she had her own studies taking place.

Furthermore, I would say one of the most supportive people on campus I have met is Dr. Pete Lammers, who is a research professor at the Polytechnic campus. I have been doing undergraduate research with him for the last year and a half, and I feel that he has really nurtured my love of science and passion for research that led me to consider graduate school in the first place. He has been a wonderful mentor, and I felt that he cared about my success on an academic as well as a personal level, which I think is rare in such a large university environment. I am very sad to leave after this semester, but I know that he will be a great contact to have long after I graduate.

Q: Looking back, is there anything you would go back and change?

A: Despite my transferring situation, I really think that I have had an overall positive experience throughout college. I was involved on campus, academically successful, I am graduating in an amount of time that I wanted, and I have been lucky enough to meet some great people that I will keep in touch with long after graduation. I think that the experiences we have are our own and they shape who we become in the future!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: ASU has been a one-of-a-kind experience, and I’m grateful I had it. It is bittersweet to graduate, but I am stoked for my next chapter! #forkem

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise