Graduating transfer student blooms into Peace Corps volunteer

April 29, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Graduating Arizona State University student Ashai Thomas seems to embody the advice to, “bloom where you’re planted.” Graduating ASU student Ashai Thomas, surrounded by flowers / Courtesy photo Graduating ASU student Ashai Thomas says her study abroad experience in Costa Rica was formative to her future career choices. Download Full Image

Thomas, who is earning a BA in English (linguistics) along with a minor in Spanish and a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) this spring, is indeed blooming. She has thrived as a resident of Tempe, where her family moved from Saint Louis when she was a child. And after graduation, Thomas will join the selective ranks of Peace Corps volunteers with an assignment in Panama.

A self-professed extrovert, Thomas enjoys both learning and imparting hard-earned wisdom. She describes her initial study abroad experience — in Costa Rica as a community college student — as her “aha” moment. Her Instagram handle, @puravida_ashai, extends to her virtual circle her adopted Costa Rican cultural philosophy about embracing life fully. From her formative time at Mesa Community College to her more recent position as an ASU Transfer Student Ambassador, Thomas has taken advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow.

She grafted some time from graduation preparation to share a little bit more about herself and her plans.

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

Answer: My “aha” moment in choosing my major was when I studied abroad in Costa Rica for the summer when enrolled at Mesa Community College. Studying abroad in Costa Rica was my first time leaving the United States, and was the longest that I’ve traveled away from my family. At the time, I was pursuing a career in psychology at MCC; psychology was fascinating to me but that wasn't what I was passionate about. Traveling for the first time overseas and interacting with different cultures first-hand changed how I saw the world and how I saw what I wanted to do with my life. I discovered my passion for language and learning about different cultures; I am a big extrovert and I love talking to people and learning differences between cultures. So, my “aha” moment was when I went out of my comfort zone and learned about what I really wanted to do for a career. I want to teach English in different parts of the world so that I am able to share my culture as well as learn about others.

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

A: Something that I learned while attending ASU was about how to network with different cultures. ASU is known for the diversity of students from different states and the world. Currently, I am interning at the (W. P. Carey) Global Education Center where I am an assistant teacher and mentor to international students who attend ASU. I teach English pronunciation and American culture.

As a mentor, I’ve learned about different cultural communication styles, such as verbal and non-verbal cues, that I was not aware of before interning at the center. Furthermore, I’ve learned how to ask questions and to not be afraid to seek help from professors and faculty. By learning how to network and finding ASU resources that I did not know about before — such as Peace Corps representatives — I’ve achieved my ultimate career goal: I was recently accepted into the United States Peace Corps to serve in Panama.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose to go to ASU because of the study abroad program as well as receiving a full ride scholarship through the Next Generation Service Corps. Attending ASU was the best choice for me because of its linguistics program, as well as the resources and opportunities they offer to linguistic and TESOL students.

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

A: The professor that inspired me and motivated me to fight to achieve my goals even when it got tough was [director of English internships] Ruby Macksoud. Ruby has taught me how to go and do further than what was expected of me, and to not underestimate my future students or myself. Ruby has helped me thrive in ways that I never thought I could, such as being accepted into the Peace Corps and applying to different English teaching positions all over the world. She has taught me to take risks, to not take “no” for an answer, and to never give up. Ruby is someone that I look up to and the kind of teacher I want to be.

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

A: The best advice that I want to give is to not be afraid to know what you want and to seek help in reaching your goals. Also: Make friends. This is the time to really learn about yourself. Explore different interests by joining a club, getting involved on campus or doing what I did: study abroad for a semester in Santiago, Chile. I strongly suggest studying abroad and getting out of your comfort zone. Studying abroad will open up more opportunities for you in your degree.

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

A: My favorite spot on campus to study and to meet up with friends is the Farmer Education Building. I also love the Memorial Union, where there are always events that go on that give out free food. As a college student, I love free food and ASU swag! In the (Memorial Union) basement, there are pool tables where you can play with friends, watch TV and play video games. This is the area where I liked to spend most of my time creating new memories.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plans after graduation are to first teach English as a second language in Santiago, Chile, then serve in the United States Peace Corps as an English teacher for the following two years in Panama. After my service, I plan to extend my education and obtain a master’s degree in applied linguistics, then teach English at a college level overseas.

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

A: If someone gave me $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, I would take on the education systems all over the world. For me, education was my ticket to making a change and doing what I never thought would be possible for me: traveling, learning a second language and having the tools to reach my goals. I believe that every person deserves the right to equal and quality education, and deserves to have teachers who care about them academically, professionally and personally. Many schools all over the world, including in the United States, do not have enough resources. Some of these resources include updated textbooks, opportunities for entrepreneurship, and funding for higher education. With $40 million, I would give students a chance to explore and learn different things, to help them change their lives and communities.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English


Graduating transfer student finds her home at new program in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

April 29, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

The summer before her third year of college, Hannah Rose felt out of place. Rose decided to apply to Arizona State University, majoring in a new program: civic and economic thought and leadership. She would describe that application as the "best impulse decision of my life."  ASU graduate Hannah Rose Hannah Rose will graduate from the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership this May. Download Full Image

The Arizona native quickly found her place within the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, first by taking a Shakespeare course in Prescott, Arizona, and through a Global Intensive Experience in India. 

“Hannah and I bonded over our love of Shakespeare,” said Carol McNamara, associate director for public programs at the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. “She joined the school and devoted herself to the study of Shakespeare to understand the ideas that help her make sense of the human heart and soul.”

After graduation, Rose had intended on serving with the Peace Corps in Paraguay as a Youth Health and Wellness Promoter, however, due to the changes brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, she isn’t quite sure what her future looks like but she knows she wants to travel. 

“I hope to move to a Spanish speaking country where I can continue my journey of learning through experience by working on a permaculture farm, or perhaps a blossoming yoga studio, or maybe just a hostel.” 

She will be graduating with her bachelor’s degree in civic and economic thought and leadership. The school caught up with her to ask her about her time at Arizona State University.

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

Answer: Sometimes I get so excited and motivated by the train of discussion that I feel the need to speak up and be a part of the discussion, however, I observed that many times my input is purely out of excitement and not necessarily anything of substance to supplement the conversation. So, I started to practice active listening. Instead of planning out my next thought or how I could chime in, I tried to just soak up the arguments and take note of what was interesting or intriguing. Of course, I still participated in my classes but in purposefully taking a back seat, I have come to appreciate thought-provoking discussions even if I am not a voice in it. I do not need to hear the sound of my own voice to feel a part of the conversation or to learn something. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus? 

A: My favorite place on campus is the Sun Devil Fitness Complex. I made it a daily ritual to make time for myself just to move my body, give my mind a break and reset. Plus, after my gym me-time, I love to sit with my lunch on the small hill just east of the (complex). There, I can lie in the grass and use my skateboard as a little table out in front of me while I people watch. 

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

A: I would attempt to remedy the food waste problem of the world by connecting grocers, farmers and buyers with local food banks, “ugly food” shops and malnutrition prevention nonprofits in an attempt to feed more people and create less trash. I don’t know what $40 million could realistically do on a global scale but that’s what I would at least try to tackle. 

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

A: Professor Carol McNamara served an important role in my ASU and SCETL experience. She unapologetically lets the class the conversation flow, even if it means that will take her off schedule. As a Type A person like myself, this was a vitally important and meaningful lesson to learn. Repeatedly she illustrated to me how you don’t need to have everything planned in life. It is okay to go with the flow and just let pieces fall where they will. 

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

A: Don’t be so hard on yourself. Remember that everything is temporary. The stress of classes, internships or the foreboding fear of life post-graduation will all end. There are times that are incredibly difficult mentally, physically and emotionally, however, they will eventually conclude and times of relief, joy and self-satisfaction will follow. 

Jacey West

Communications program coordinator, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership