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Fulbright scholar used her narrative to be an ally to the undocumented community


Berenice Pelayo in front of the WP Carey Business School in her cap and gown

Berenice Pelayo

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May 19, 2020

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

Berenice Pelayo has always been passionate about immigration policies and the undocumented community. 

Growing up in a household with mixed immigration status allowed her to understand the hardship that immigrant families can experience. The 23-year-old Arizona native graduated last week with a degree in business law from the W. P. Carey School of Business and Barrett, The Honors College

During her time at Arizona State University, Pelayo was a student specialist for DREAMzone, an on-campus resource for the ASU community in support of undocumented, DACA students and students with families of mixed immigration status. Here she was able to help students with scholarships, DACA renewal forms and any questions regarding the transition to ASU. 

“I just want to be an ally, knowing that I am privileged to have been born here and that not all people have that same advantage. Undocumented students face many challenges related to their immigration status inside and outside of the classroom, which makes attaining a higher education increasingly difficult. That’s why I wanted to work with DREAMzone. I have met so many resilient and inspiring fellow students through my job. ,” Pelayo said. 

Being a transfer student from Central Arizona College did not stop her from getting the full Sun Devil experience. Pelayo was a Devils’ Advocate, giving school tours. She was also the president of the Global Council of Diplomats, which focused on bridging the gap between domestic and international students. 

Her final achievement as a Sun Devil was earning a Fulbright scholarship to Mexico City, where she is set to depart in January. 

“Walking through the Barrett hallways, you see all the photos of the students who have gone to different places through different scholarships. I thought that it would be so cool to be on that wall. So it’s kind of full circle now. I’m definitely so excited and so grateful that I got it,” Pelayo said. 

Pelayo will spend nine months abroad through the Fulbright Garcia-Robles Binational Business Internship. 

“I will be working for a Mexican or multinational company. The purpose is to gain business skills with a goal of creating mutual understanding between the private sectors of Mexico and the United States,” she said. 

She will also take business courses at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and will facilitate financial literacy classes for teens in public libraries or community centers. 

After graduation, Pelayo will start her new endeavor in the finance industry. As she graduated, she reflected on her time as a Sun Devil. 

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

Answer: My “aha” moment happened the semester going into my senior year. 

I changed my major so many times because I have so many interests. It was hard to choose! However, I have always been interested in the intersection between the law and business, therefore business law was a perfect fit.

I’m part of Program Excellence. Program Excellence is a Barrett program for students who are interested in pursuing a career in law or they’re just interested in learning more about the law, and it’s in conjunction with Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in Downtown Phoenix. 

So I’ve been able to take a law class with law students there. That’s been a really cool opportunity, one of my favorites through Barrett. The whole point of that was to let students see what it would be like to be in a law school. Although I am not planning on attending law school in the near future it has been an amazing opportunity to gain exposure to the environment and teaching practices of the Law College.

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

A: There are so many different types of students at ASU from around the world and different parts of the United States, and we’re all so diverse. We bring so many different qualities to ASU. But what’s interesting is that we’re all brought together in this huge community because we’re all pursuing an education and trying to better ourselves in some way. 

It is great to see how the ASU community comes together. Overall, the giving spirit of the ASU community is inspiring and has shown me that true success is when you do good and use it to help others to do even better.  

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I’ve always wanted to go to ASU. It’s never even been a doubt that I wanted to go anywhere else. My mom went to ASU, and I’ve always thought ASU is the greatest university. I just always wanted to go.

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

A: Anita Verdugo Tarango has taught me the importance of mentoring younger people. Just gaining experience that you can use to help other people. She's been a mentor, which is awesome because you know, she's successful in her career. She’s had a lot of life experience and then she also uses her position to help others. So that's inspiring to see. That’s something I would like to do once I have more of an established career to be able to help others find their way as well. 

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

A: Try new things. Just apply for things. With the Fulbright program, even though it’s something that really got my attention, I wasn’t sure if I should even apply. And there’s always that little bit of self-doubt. 

Like, should I even bother applying? Should I put that effort in or will I even get it if I do apply? But I think what is most important is just if it’s calling your name, just apply for it. Don’t tell yourself no. Just do it. And then if it happens, it happens and you never know where that will take you. 

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

A: My favorite spot has to be the Leadership Academy for business students. It’s great because they have free printing and computers, but free printing is a huge plus and it’s just a great space to get stuff done and also meet up with other students there. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: In June I am going to be starting my first full-time position working for a retail banking company. I’ll be starting in the finance industry, which I’m really excited to learn more about. 

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

A: To fund worldwide education so that every kid has an education. If a child is given the opportunity to learn and that environment to thrive, then subsequently the other problems that we face in the world would also be solved or diminished. Because that generation of educated kids around the world will then solve other problems like poverty and hunger. It’d be a trickle effect.

Written by Carmen De Alba Cardenas, Sun Devil Storyteller

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