Second-generation Sun Devil on how extracurricular opportunities enriched her college experience
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.
Rachel Caldwell comes from a family of Sun Devils: Both of her parents are alumni, and her mom works at the university. Now, it’s Caldwell’s turn to carry on the legacy — this spring, she will graduate from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with dual bachelor’s degrees in political science and women and gender studies with a minor in history and a disability studies certificate.
In her senior year of high school she realized she had a passion for political science, and her interest in the topic only continued to grow through courses she took and other extracurricular opportunities she participated in at ASU, including Sun Devil Mock Trial, ASU's collegiate mock trial team.
“I had so many amazing opportunities to travel across the West Coast and improve my public speaking skills. Constantly performing in front of others helped boost my confidence,” she said. “I improved my ability to understand criminal and civil trials by constructing arguments, memorizing the Federal Rules of Evidence and practicing courtroom procedures. Aside from the professional development experience this provided, the five or six road trips I took to competitions each year fostered strong friendships with my teammates.”
She also participated in Undergraduate Student Government on the Tempe campus for two years, first as the director of government affairs and then as a senator for Barrett, The Honors College and co-chair of the Committee on University Affairs.
“All of these experiences helped me connect with my community at ASU and introduced me to some very good friends,” she said. “The other Undergraduate Student Government members really pushed me to go to more social events and convinced me to go to my first ASU football game where we stood in the front row and guarded the 'A' during homecoming.”
She said working as an intern and an assistant research analyst in the Arizona Senate through the Legislative Internship Program during her last couple of semesters also helped her gain the skills needed to apply for law school, with a career goal of becoming a constitutional lawyer.
Caldwell shared more about her experiences at ASU and her advice for current students.
Question: Did you experience any obstacles along your way? If yes, how did you overcome them?
Answer: Yes, I have anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which made completing school during the pandemic so much harder. However, I am very fortunate to have had access to mental health services because of my insurance. It is very important to clarify that I’m not “overcoming” anxiety and OCD, because that perpetuates negative stigma associated with disability, but rather working within and making it through an educational structure that was not designed to be accommodating for people’s mental health. I co-founded the Accessibility Coalition, and having that community of support has helped me in so many different ways, especially dealing with the social stigma of mental health conditions and learning new mechanisms to manage my anxiety. I am so happy to have worked with all of the passionate students in my classes and clubs to develop this coalition into what it is today. This experience really showed me that persistence and hard work can lead to positive outcomes and helped me appreciate my anxiety and OCD and talk about it openly with others who had similar experiences instead of trying to hide it out of shame. It also educated me about people who had very different experiences with disability.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Dr. Breanne Fahs taught me to embrace tensions and contradictions — the unclear and sometimes uncomfortable gray areas of life — and to think critically about my own life and freedom of expression, for which I am very grateful.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Don’t be afraid to try new things — clubs, friendships, classes, etc. — because each leap of faith will bring so many amazing experiences and insights. If something doesn’t work out, don’t think that your second option or third option will be a worse experience. It will just be a different one and lead you to exactly where you need to be. Make sure to balance work and social time. Your experiences with your friends and peers are so important, and if I’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that you could lose those experiences at any moment. Don’t take them for granted.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: After graduation, I will continue working at the Arizona Senate as an assistant research analyst. I eventually hope to apply for law school and become a constitutional lawyer.