Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.
Arizona State University senior Derek Duba, who will be graduating with a BA in political science this May, aims to find meaning in all of his efforts no matter how challenging or mundane.
It was a lesson instilled in him during his time in the United States Army.
“The Army taught me how to recognize the value of each and every opportunity I see to go above and beyond the expectations of those around me,” Duba said.
Upon graduating high school in 2009 towards the tail end of America’s Great Recession and looking to create a secure future, Duba enlisted in the Army as an electronics technician. He would go on to serve for eight years having a variety of roles including cryptologic linguist.
When he made the difficult decision to return to civilian life, Duba looked to continue his education and professional development by returning to school. ASU stood out during his research since it allowed him the flexibility to pursue his interests and ambitions with a mix of online and in-person classes.
“I loved that the spirit of collaboration and breaking out of traditional institutional learning settings to get your hands dirty and really experience your field of study first-hand,” he said.
A week before the start of his first semester at ASU, before even stepping foot on campus as a transfer student, Duba was invited to the School of Politics and Global Studies Transfer Student Welcome event.
“The outreach efforts of SPGS advisers, staff, and administrators played a big role in getting me excited about transitioning from being a soldier to a student,” he said.
This event was when Duba first learned about the Arizona Legislative and Government Internship Program which he applied to the following spring. Duba would earn an internship for the Senate Appropriations Committee gaining not only valuable hands-on experience but also the ability to connect with professionals from a wide array of fields.
“He represented ASU well at the capitol,” said ASU senior lecturer Tara Lennon, who is the faculty director for the Arizona Legislative and Government Internship Program. “Considering his poise, commitment to the best argument, and passion for public service, I wasn’t surprised that he was chosen to intern for the Appropriations Committee.”
In his final semester at ASU, Duba would participate in the Junior Fellows program under the mentorship Lennon. While working on her project, Teaching Civil Deliberation Skills in Any Class, Duba would learn about pedagogy and the methods by which political science is taught.
“In his first assignment, he surpassed my expectations,” Lennon said. “We are currently drafting a case study manuscript that describes the teaching approach.”
Coupled with the traits he gained in the Army, ASU provided Duba the freedom to pursue all of his interests whether it was through interdisciplinary courses, research or working as a legislative aide at the capitol.
“As graduation rapidly approaches, I count myself very fortunate to be surrounded by such capable and caring advisers and advocates,” Duba said.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: To me, political science offers a really beautiful marriage of genuine empirical inquiry, history and macro-examination of human behavior. Reading social science literature, political philosophers and policy all kind of blend together to help make sense of an unfathomably complicated modern world. When I'm feeling my most idealistic, I think that this field of study holds knowledge and wisdom we need as a human race to solve our collective problems through collective action and public policy that is based on good science. I think a big part of my personal and familial identity has to do with being of service to others and I would like to continue to do so in government and law if I can.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: I think my most profound learning experience at ASU was actually my internship at the Arizona State Senate. My perspective on state and local government was a lot more cynical than I had realized! I think that working alongside senators and senior state government staffers made me realize that the hyper-partisan sensational personalities we often see caricatured in political ads and in punditry are far from the reality at the capitol. The overwhelming majority of staff and elected officials are brilliant, hard-working public servants that concern themselves primarily with making Arizona the best state they possibly can at the confluence of our constitution, state and federal laws, and the will of the electorate. I expected at least a little bit of careerist cloak and dagger but was perpetually surprised by the professionalism and compassion of everybody I came into contact with from lawmakers to advocates to lobbyists.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Make the best of it! Higher education is expensive, but the only person who can truly waste your time is you. It's taken me a long time to graduate, but there hasn't been a single class I've taken at ASU or DLIDefense Language Institute where I didn't learn, grow and better inform my worldview. If your goal in class is just to show up and get the homework in on time, I think you're missing out on an opportunity to really wrestle with the material in front of you and get the professional perspective of highly qualified lecturers and professors. Ask questions, go out of your way to attend seminars, table events and professional events. ASU has more resources, connections and events than you can possibly make use of as one person, so fill your calendar up! I can't speak for everybody, but I've personally never regretted writing an email, dropping in for office hours or getting involved with student organizations. I know things can get overwhelming at times — especially those last few weeks of the semester — but everybody is in it together and I think most people want to be supportive and accommodating if you give them a chance to be.
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