First-gen student overcomes bumpy road to earn art degree

Photo of Katherine Del Rosario

Katherine Del Rosario. Photo by Yadira Villarreal.


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

It’s taken five years, hard work and a few bumps, but Katherine Del Rosario is finally graduating. This month she will receive her BFA in art with a focus on painting from Arizona State University.

She will be the first one in her family to graduate from college, thanks to the sacrifices, support and inspiration from those around her. 

“I thought that college would be the linear four-year track,” she said, “but yes, I encountered a few bumps.”

Del Rosario received several scholarships — including the Special Talent Award, K. Herberger Art Scholarship, Sun Angel Scholarship and ASU Academic Achievement Scholarship — but she still had to work to financially support herself through school. 

“I received a study abroad scholarship to go to Rome, which was the best time of my life, however after that semester, I knew I was not able to go back to school financially,” she said. “So I worked full time at hotels as a front desk agent to save what I could. I was working full time for a year and a half, then I finally went back to school fall 2018.”

Del Rosario said she thinks having a break in between your school years actually gives you an advantage.

“You become more motivated to work, and it gives you time to reflect on where you want to be with your work.”

That extra time also allowed her to develop her point of view as an artist.

“I needed to let my art marinate a little bit over the years in order for me to be actually satisfied with it,” she said. “I developed some type of style and my own voice and I am very proud of where I am now.”

As a first-generation Filipina, Del Rosario said her art examines her “own personal womanhood, in relation to the powerful women in my family and how they have set the example of being incredible individuals, mothers and wives.”

“Caring and loving is a very powerful thing, so I look up to those who have been maternal role models for me,” she said. “My grandmothers have already passed yet they were a part of my foundation growing up.”

Painting by Katherine Del Rosario

A painting by Katherine Del Rosario.

She said her earliest memories are of her grandmother on her dad's side teaching her the alphabet, shapes and nursery rhymes. Her grandmother on her mother’s side was a nurse in World War II in the Philippines and raised 10 kids. 

“My paintings also reflect generational relationships and how our identities and values shift when we become closer or more distant with our loved ones,” she said.

Over the years, Del Rosario has reflected back on the difficulty her family endured immigrating to a new country and what sacrifices and tough decisions were made for the benefit of her and her sisters.

“These tough decisions are not carefully recorded, but I know that they do all things out of love,” she said. “I remember when my father had to work two jobs in order for us to have my education, working tirelessly and coming home late. My mother has been supportive when my sisters both had children, and set time and dedication aside to watch over her grandchildren. She is always happy to watch over them, even to this day.”

Del Rosario said she was able to make the tough decision to take time off from college thanks to the examples set by her family. 

“Looking back at where they came from, it feels emotional to know that I am the first one in my immediate family to graduate from college,” she said. “I am happy to know that I did this for myself and for my family.”

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

Answer: I realized in the beginning of my freshman year of ASU that I wanted to focus more on studio art. I had a genuine interest in art history, but I realized that I was not the most talented in academics, such as writing, reading and researching. It seemed too intimidating. I also thought maybe graphic design might be fun, but I didn’t want to commit to work that was very technical and strict. It was these points that I realized what I didn’t like, in order for me to understand that painting was the most liberating to my expression and career path. I knew then that being creative and finding my personal artistic voice was what I needed to do.

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 being present is the most valuable thing. Whether it is going to class, practicing your work alone in the studio, attending the weekly BFA and MFA art shows, a free workshop, anything to show that you are participating makes a difference. I have met many incredible people and been granted opportunities by showing up and building a connection with those around me. I now have the perspective that being there, anything can happen.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I was awarded a scholarship and it was known that ASU had a good art school. It was also my parents’ wish to stay within state and keep close to home.

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

A: There are many professors that have taught me incredible lessons. I wish I could list all of them! The most memorable class was co-taught by Professor Megan Workmon and Professor Wil Heywood. They taught me to embrace my brilliance and stop shaming myself into thinking that I am not good enough.

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

A: The best piece of advice is that you have to forgive yourself when you mess up. This is the only way you can move forward with anything.

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

A: I have had my best memories in Gallery 100. It is a place of joy and celebrating emerging artists for their incredible work. It is also the best place of conversation, where I get to chat with old alumni, friends and professors. The snacks for the opening reception on Tuesdays is also a nice treat after a long day of classes!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I want to make it a habit to paint every day, as much as I can. I intend to refine my skills and try attending art workshops and residencies. I also need to get my driver’s license haha! 

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

A: Mass incarceration.

More Arts, humanities and education


An image of colorful video game equipment and screens in a photo credited to Stewart A. Elrod / Brandon Skeli on Flickr.

The future is a story

If there was one word reflecting the zeitgeist of today’s media environment, it might be “storytelling.” From its documented role…

A shopping cart with a calculator, paintbrush and gear on a flat ASU maroon background

How AI is helping tailor the student experience at ASU

Editor's note: This expert Q&A is part of our “AI is everywhere ... now what?” special project exploring the potential (and…

A vintage maroon school desk floating on a flat ASU gold background

AI's role in enhancing education

Editor's note: This feature article is part of our “AI is everywhere ... now what?” special project exploring the potential (and…