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Struggles shape first-generation college student's journey

December 11, 2012

As an immigrant from Vietnam, Thuynga Barr, a senior in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University, knows all too well about the struggle to become a United States citizen.

She came to the U.S. after her brother established himself as a citizen, and from there was put through hours of phone calls and waiting in line to get the proper documentation. Barr was also tasked with overcoming a language barrier since she did not know English at the time.

Preparatory courses soon helped Barr grasp the language, but the experience resonated with her. She knew in the back of her mind that one day she wanted to help those who were going through the same thing.

After moving from Nevada to Oregon, she began working with semiconductor circuits as an engineer for a local company. A business merge was the perfect opportunity for Barr to relocate to Arizona. In 2008 the economic crash caused Barr to reevaluate her career ambitions. Although excelling at her work, she says that the engineering field was not her passion.

“It was my chance to go and do something I’m really passionate about. I love public service and being able to help people, so I started doing research for college,” Barr said.

Barr, a first-generation college student, set her sights on a bachelor’s degree in justice studies from the School of Social Transformation in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

To gain hands-on experience, Barr interned with congressman Ed Pastor’s electoral campaign. She enjoyed the experience so much that in May 2012 she began volunteering with congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema.

“I did some research on her and realized that if I wanted to make a change on a local level, this was my opportunity,” Barr said.

Of her work, Barr said she enjoyed working with fellow volunteers who shared a passion for change and building relationships with community members.

“When you talk to people on the phone they tell you their struggle. You find out we all struggle with the same things,” she said.

To further broaden her horizon on the political spectrum, Barr volunteered with Mi Familia Vota, a nonprofit organization that works to increase civic engagement in Latino, immigrant and allied communities. The group offers free workshops and counseling services for those who wish to learn about the voting process and become a U. S. citizen.

Barr says that the experience only furthered her passion for working with those seeking citizenship. It also made her form new opinions on how to better the immigration process, which she says is something she would like to work on full time in the future with the Department of Homeland Security.

In the meantime, the senior will be graduating this fall and is a proud recipient of the School of Social Transformation Dean’s Medal. She says that above all, she will miss the conversations with her professors and classroom debates with peers.