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Motivated by national tragedies, first-gen sophomore dreams of future as a changemaker

Arizona State University sophomore Halle Aquino, a first-generation college student studying political science and public policy.

October 07, 2020

Arizona State University sophomore Halle Aquino was born in 2001, on the heels of 9/11. Just 11 years later, when she was in sixth grade, 26 people tragically died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Unbeknownst to her, these devastating events and others would shape her path forever.

“I remember the day that the Sandy Hook shooting happened in 2012, I was watching the news and I couldn’t comprehend how something so cruel could happen at an elementary school just like mine,” Aquino said. “And then the Las Vegas shooting at Mandalay Bay in 2017 struck more close to home because my family always traveled there when I was younger. That was the breaking point for me. It motivated me to set myself out on this path and actually do the work that will make change.”

For Aquino, change means pursuing dual bachelor’s degrees in political science and public policy so she can one day tackle a variety of issues on a local and national scale. As a first-generation college student from a small town near Tucson, she said the opportunity to attend a university wasn’t guaranteed; earning several scholarships including the PepsiCo Foundation Scholarship, the New American University Scholar award and the President Barack Obama Scholar award provided the financial support she needed to go to ASU.

“If it weren't for the scholarships that I received, I would not be here,” she said. “I knew from the get-go in my freshman year of high school that if I didn’t work hard enough to get any academic scholarships, I would not be going to college. So I made that a priority and I put school over everything. I'm so glad that I did and I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to come here and fulfill my dream of being a college student.”

In The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Early Start program, an immersive two-week-long university experience for incoming first-year students, she was able to create a solid foundation for future success. Upon starting college, she said she was unsure of what to expect, but the program provided her a plethora of advice and resources on how to succeed as a student and as a growing professional within the field of political science.

When she’s not in class, Aquino works as a customer support peer with ASU’s Career and Professional Development Services. She said she finds it rewarding to help people of all backgrounds navigate their way to success. Along with being a full-time student and working as a customer support peer, she also interns with Undergraduate Student Government where she assists directors, contributes ideas for improvement at ASU, and ensures the student body is able to express their needs and concerns.

Aquino said she tries to push herself to do things outside her comfort zone, like participating in weekly meetings for BridgeASU, a student organization committed to debating the issues that face the U.S. while challenging conventional approaches to argumentation. 

“It's not always fun getting yourself to do things that you don't want to do, that you're scared of or anxious about, it can definitely be very challenging. But it is the most rewarding thing you can do and it will only push you to grow and be your best, highest self,” she said.

She has found herself in other unpredictable situations during her time at ASU, including attending classes during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, she moved back home to finish the spring semester online and said it was a surprisingly positive, transformative experience for her.

“Without this switch to online learning, I would have never known that I am equally as strong of a learner online and in-person. I ended up doing better academically in the spring than I did in my first semester,” she said. “The time I had to myself outside of school during the lockdown was the most reflective experience I've ever had in my life. There had never been a time for me to really sit back and evaluate the progress I’ve made in my 18 years of living. My life had always been so fast-paced that being able to rest and take time for myself was something I never truly learned to do and value.”

Although she is unsure where her path will lead professionally, she said wherever she ends up she hopes to be a catalyst for change.

“I hope to one day end up in a position where I'm not only happy in what I'm doing but also where I am a changemaker for a large group of people,” she said. “I don't know what that will look like exactly quite yet, but I just want to know I am doing the best that I can for the greater good of society.”

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