How the 2016 presidential election led this ASU grad to Columbia Law

Photo of Nicole Morote working as an intern in Sen. Martha McSally's office in summer 2019.


Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

When Nicole Morote was 6, she and her family moved from Lima, Peru, to the United States. After moving around the country, her family settled in Georgia, which is where she lived before she visited Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.

“I got a tour by the Devil’s Advocates and their excitement is really contagious, and being in such a large research institution where you see undergraduates doing research, pursuing all these internships, getting these crazy jobs that as a 16-year-old, I didn’t think were open to me,” Morote said. “I thought I could be like them, and this would be a good place to try it out. It was a place where I could maximize my potential the most.”

As of this spring, Morote is a Barrett, The Honors College graduate with double majors in marketing and civic and economic thought and leadership. She discovered the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership during her first year after visiting a booth at Passport to ASU. From there, she took her first civic and economic thought and leadership class with Professor Karen Taliaferro.

“I was told that when I was coming into a state university that you should expect big lecturers not to care about you. Neither of those things was true; or at least not in SCETL,” said Morote. “Even in my wildest dreams, I had not expected a professor that was so supportive, so genuinely caring about other students. That was one of the biggest reasons why I was able to stay in SCETL; because the professors and academics were really knowledgeable, but they also really care about the people they’re teaching.”

For Morote, civic and economic thought and leadership courses challenge her to learn in a different way. Accustomed to classes like English and history that focus their lectures on facts and rules, SCETL classes have challenged her to learn in a different way.

“I was being taught ways in which to understand the world, and that’s harder to conceptualize, but I think that served me a lot better, both as a person and aspiring academic, Morote said. “In the sense, you're not just being taught what to think, you’re taught how to think.”

Morote credits Taliaferro for helping her discover her interests, which led to an internship that shaped her experience in understanding why she wants to have a career at the intersection of policy and communication.

The summer after her first year at ASU, Morote moved to Washington, D.C., for the summer to intern at a congressional office.

“It was beyond anything that I could’ve imagined doing as an 18-year-old … It helped me realize that a lot more is in reach than I thought,” she said.

While in Washington, Morote had the opportunity to interview Bernie Sanders, meet Jeff Flake and experience the day-to-day business of working on Capitol Hill.

“I was able to be writing briefs on specific topics, going to meetings with members of Congress with real staffers and writing policy proposals. I like to think that I was having a real impact, and that’s not really something I associated with most internships.”

In addition to her academic pursuits and internships, Morote was involved with Devil’s Advocates, wrote for the student newspaper and was involved with student government, where she received the Initiative of the Year award for her advocacy work on college affordability.

After graduation, Morote plans to attend Columbia Law School in New York City.

“I’m really interested in criminal law. I’ve also done work in civil litigation, as well as immigration law, so those are fields I know I would be interested in. I’m also really interested in learning more about election law,” she said. “I’m keeping my options open and am very excited about them.”

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

Answer: It was the 2016 presidential election. I’d been interested in politics and paying attention a little bit while growing up but as an immigrant, and someone who English wasn’t their first language … it wasn’t something that was talked about around the dinner table. The 2016 presidential election was the first one where I felt conscious and informed enough to pay attention in a way that approaches the level to the way I pay attention now. Everything felt so consequential and especially personal. I moved from a very partisan area in the California Bay Area to a very partisan area in a different sense, in a very small town in Georgia. It was fascinating to see the disconnect with which people believed such different things so strongly, but it’s not like one of them is right and one of them is wrong — they are coming from legitimate places. I think it’s important to understand those things instead of writing off everyone that disagrees. Being surrounded by very polarized people in different directions really shaped that for me.

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

A: This was my first SCETL class! I was taking Great Ideas in Politics and Ethics (CEL 100) the fall semester of my first year. The two professors teaching the class were Professor Taliferro and Professor (Kent) Wright — both were excellent. That class really set the foundation for why I would eventually become a CEL major. I had such a positive experience that I switched my major to become a CEL major. The reason that I loved the class so much is because they made stuff that had felt very inaccessible to me, all the knowledge about the classics — Plato and Socrates — they made it understandable. It helped me realize that I was more capable than I thought I was.

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

A: Apply for things! It can be so easy not to apply to things, to see job opportunities get passed up because you’re not reading the right newsletters, you’re not connecting with the right professors. If you approach these things where you know you’re only going to be limited by what you didn’t do, it can be really easy to put yourself out there.

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

A: I love the art museum! When I had breaks between classes, I would go to the art museum or the student pavilion.

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

A: If I could fix anything, there’s a lot of problems I would like to solve, but to me it feels so important to make sure that people are provided with the basic needs to continue living. I’m extra invested because we have so much food waste that gets thrown out and such a huge disparity in the areas that have plenty of food and enough to spare.

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