Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.
Ayesha Ahsan attended a STEM high school and always thought she would go into the medical field, but after taking a few classes, she realized she wasn’t happy and couldn’t see herself as a doctor. She knew she wanted to help people but wasn’t sure how. She took a sociology class with Jennifer Harrison and fell in love with the subject.
“Dr. Harrison was a really big part of my time at ASU,” Ahsan said. “She helped guide me. Sociology really aligned with my interests. Eventually she reached out to me to let me know she noticed the great work I was doing in her classes and asked if I would be a TA for her. It really meant a lot to me for her to see my potential. I really wouldn’t be where I am today without her.”
To new students coming to ASU, she says, “I know it’s really overwhelming to see people who look like they know what they want and have their lives together and they have a plan set out. A lot of us are struggling and it’s OK to change plans. Doing what you love and being happy is all that matters.”
Ahsan has answered a few questions about her experience at ASU.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: This is a difficult question because I don’t think I experienced a single moment in which everything fell into place for me. My experiences as a woman of color and a first-generation American fueled me to learn about issues of inequity. Sociology was an addition to my economics major, which, while I found fascinating, lacked the “humanized” approach that I was seeking, so sociology felt like a natural fit as it fulfilled my interest in learning about the science behind inequality.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: Despite having a marginalized identity, I grew up in a relatively privileged household. I was not exposed to many of the inequities and the injustices that other marginalized folks are. During my time at ASU, I had the opportunity of meeting people with vastly different backgrounds and experiences than me, and the interactions that I had with those individuals drastically impacted my social and political views. I was surprised to learn about how prevalent many issues are and how they’re not as “distant” as we make them out to be. Racism, food insecurity and education inequity are among the myriad issues prevalent in our own neighborhoods. It may seem like a simple thing to grasp, but I was genuinely shocked to learn precisely how pervasive injustice is. Out of everything I learned during my time at ASU, this is one of the greatest driving forces behind my goal of a career in public service.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I grew up quite close to ASU, so I always knew that I would attend it, at least for my undergraduate degree. I did toy with the idea of attending an out-of-state university and applied to some schools, but ultimately chose ASU because it felt familiar and comfortable. I also was accepted into the Leadership Scholarship Program and Barrett, The Honors College, which ultimately solidified my decision to attend ASU.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Hands down, Dr. Jennifer Harrison. I have taken many sociology courses with her and had the opportunity to work with her as a teaching assistant and on my honors thesis. In academic settings, we are often guilty of simply discussing and debating theories and moving on. Dr. Harrison always made a point to encourage her students to consider the consequences the ideas we discussed in her courses had on individuals and their communities. This allowed me to gain a much more nuanced understanding of the ideas presented and taught me to center empathy in my work.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Talk to your professors outside of class! I know it can be intimidating, and I still struggle to do it myself, but when I have done it, I’ve gained wonderful mentors and access to opportunities I would not have otherwise. Those moments filled with nerves and anxiety are almost always worth it.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends, or just thinking about life?
A: The Changemaker Central Space in the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus. I worked at Changemaker Central for two years during my time at ASU, so I have spent a lot of time in the space. It’s a great spot to study, have meetings or just relax. It’s open to the entire ASU community, so I highly recommend that anyone looking for a nice spot to hang out stop by!
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I’ll be starting a Juris Doctor degree program in the fall! I plan on pursuing a career in public interest law. While I’m unsure of what exactly that will look like, I ultimately hope to advocate for and bring justice to marginalized communities through my career.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: This is a challenging question, but I think I would put it towards housing and food insecurity. A lot of the violence and instability that many communities face is due to a lack of access to basic resources, such as shelter and sustenance. In order to address the larger issues that we are being confronted by, we need to address those issues’ root causes. By providing basic resources to communities in need, we can allow them to expand their well-being by pursuing education, employment and other paths to prosperity, rather than forcing them to exhaust their energy on providing basic necessities for themselves and their families.
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