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First-generation ASU grad overcomes obstacles to accomplish her dreams

Rikki Nunley with her dog, Liam.

May 01, 2020

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

Rikki Nunley, a first-generation college student, is proud of herself for accomplishing what she once thought was unattainable — earning her bachelor’s degree. 

Nunley started out at Arizona State University as a transfer student majoring in psychology. After taking a communication course, she became intrigued with how people interact with one another and changed her major to communication. Just as she was beginning to find her identity as a student and get a grasp on her new major, Nunley was faced with a personal struggle that forced her to take a semester off. 

During this time off, Nunley said she was discouraged and concerned she might never finish her degree. However, Nunley was determined to see her degree through. She returned to school in spring 2019 and worked two part-time jobs while taking as many credits as she could.

“When I thought my life was at its lowest, I realized that in order to get my life back to where I wanted it to be and to accomplish my dreams I had to work for it and I couldn't just sit there waiting for it to happen,” Nunley said. “It's OK to take a semester off. Being able to graduate was something that I dreamed about and if you really want your dreams to happen, you have to work for it. It may not come tomorrow and it may not come in a year — but I truly believe that everything will fall into place if you work for it.”

Nunley is looking forward to graduating this spring with her bachelor’s degree in communication from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and hopes to pursue her master’s degree in communication in the fall.

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

Answer: I was in this mindful growth communication class and we went through all of these different exercises. One of the segments in the class was learning how to get rejected, because there’s going to be times in life, whether it's a job or something else, where someone is going to tell you no. So we had to ask people three things that we knew we would get rejected for. That exercise honestly changed my whole mindset because ever since then I have not been afraid to ask for a raise if I thought I deserved it. That was something that I struggled with before — I wouldn't ask for raises because I was scared I was going to get rejected. That experience really taught me to never put things on hold just because I think I might get rejected.

Q: Did you encounter any challenges coming to or while attending ASU? If so, how have you overcome them?

A: One of my main challenges was transferring from community college over to ASU. When I transferred I lost some credits and that pushed me back a whole semester. I ended up having to retake some classes. Another challenge I encountered was when something happened in my personal life that actually caused me to take a semester off. That was a real struggle for me because my identity was so grounded in being a student and I had been working ahead and had created such a good schedule for myself. A lot happened in that couple of months and I didn't think that I would even be able to graduate. I had to work hard and save up but I was able to get all the funds that I needed to head back to school the next semester. Also, during that time I adopted my dog, Liam, and I know that he's just a dog, but he honestly motivated me to get out of the house and go on walks. When I realized that I raised him, I realized that I can do a lot more than I think that I can. So in a weird way, my dog honestly pushed me to achieve the things I’ve accomplished.

Q: What skills and experiences have you gained from your time in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that will help you achieve your future goals in life?

A: One of the main things I took away from my whole college experience is that conflict is not always a bad thing. Before I thought if you had any conflict with anyone that it was negative. Now because of what I’ve learned, if I have conflict with someone I don't see it as a bad or negative thing. I also learned that communication is inevitable. We’re always going to be communicating no matter what, even if it's non-verbal or through our body language. That's kept me more aware of my own body language and how I communicate with others. These things have definitely helped me in the workplace.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm going to stay with the company that I'm at right now, working as a district coordinator for two financial advisers. My original plan for graduation week was to go to Italy with my best friend. But everything has changed so I’m kind of seeing where life takes me. I'm going to start applying for master's programs. I’d like to continue studying communication, specifically small group communication.

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

A: Truly believe in yourself. Life happens and life is going to get in the way but it's 100% OK to take longer to finish your degree. For me, it's made me feel like I worked even harder for it because I went through struggles and then I had to work hard to provide my own means to be able to graduate college.

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