Two-time political science alumna prepares for Georgetown, career in international law
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.
Victoria Stratton came to Arizona State University from a small town in Ohio five years ago, eager to tackle global issues and make connections. After arriving, she obtained her first internship — it was unpaid but she was excited for the opportunity nonetheless.
“I walked in on my first day and was so excited,” she said. “Then I met all the other people and a lot of them were high schoolers and I just felt like I was two years behind everyone because where I came from, that's unheard of, no one does an internship in high school, but all of these students had and were already further ahead than I was.”
As a first-generation college student and a self-described perfectionist, Stratton was already facing the obstacle of navigating the world of higher education and now felt like she was behind her peers. But she turned the obstacles into learning lessons and overcame the idea that she was behind and couldn’t catch up, realizing she just had a different path.
“I wish I could have told my younger self: You'll be fine,” she said.
This spring, Stratton graduated with her master’s degree in political science, making her a two-time ASU alumna after having earned her bachelor’s degree in political science in spring 2020 as part of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ 4+1 accelerated degree program.
In the five years Stratton studied at ASU, she participated in a variety of opportunities that have positively impacted her experience in different and sometimes unexpected ways, including working as a marketing student worker in The College’s dean’s office.
“When I started the job, I was like, ‘This is so irrelevant to everything that I'm doing.’ … But the job really tightened my way of speaking and way of writing and perfected my ability to edit things, which was so beneficial. I did not expect this job to ever be able to be so relevant in my law and political science classes, but it was very helpful,” she said.
Tightening her speaking and writing skills was crucial as she prepared her thesis, which she defended in May. She said it wasn’t until her junior year when she took a course on women in global leadership with Professor Sarah Shair-Rosenfield that she found her desired focus.
“That class really set me on a path to want to study where women fall in the leadership spectrum around the world, and what barriers are still in place for women to access leadership, because the barriers in the United States are very different from the barriers in Afghanistan,” she said.
From there, she took a class focused on strategic and cultural influences in Afghanistan as well as a class focused on women in armed conflict.
“All of these things came together in my first year of my master's program. And my second year, I wrote two papers for classes: one was on Afghanistan, one was on Pakistan. The question was, how does conflict affect women's ability to run for office?
“I was looking at legislative candidacy and determining if higher levels of conflict led to fewer women running for office. My overall hypothesis was that conflict heightens gender polarization and masculinizes the political sphere because people have a certain idea of what leadership is, especially whenever they're experiencing all this conflict, they may see their leader as more masculine. My idea was that this would then translate to women choosing not to run for office and seeing this as a barrier,” Stratton said. “I worked with Dr. Magda Hinojosa and Dr. Thorin Wright to polish these papers and get to a point where they were ready to be put together in one coherent thesis.”
Stratton shared more about her experiences in the School of Politics and Global Studies as an undergraduate and graduate student.
Question: Why did you choose ASU?
Answer: Originally I was interested in ASU’s global studies program because not many schools have a global studies element. I ended up switching to political science after the first year, but the global elements of ASU and the opportunities that ASU offered are really unmatched by others. It's hard to take advantage of those in your first few years, but as I grew and had more time at ASU, especially with the 4+1 program, I was able to really take advantage of some of those opportunities that other schools don't offer, like the connections and all of these big-name scholars that you have undergraduate classes with. You don't recognize how highly regarded they are in their field. Even just the connections that ASU has in terms of research, like the current research center I work at — the Center on Narrative, Disinformation and Strategic Influence — most universities don't have a center dedicated to strategic communications.
Q: Did you have an “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study your major(s) or what drew you to the degree program?
A: I decided that I wanted to study politics when I was very young; debating politics with my dad was our morning activity. Once I got to ASU, I took one of the lower-level, general global studies classes with Dr. Siroky and I began to see there were certain parts of the class that I was more interested in than others. I was interested in the politics of foreign affairs and who makes decisions about what, especially when it comes to human rights. I really began to dig into those topics and realize a lot of those classes were political science, not global studies. With ASU, there are so many classes that you have the option to pick from, especially in political science. A lot of them are broad classes in one of these topics, so I was able to take advantage of it by picking out which ones I wanted and then working with my advisers to figure out where that fit into my degree plan. I also figured out that the political science pathway led directly to a master's degree, which was perfect for my future goals.
Q: What's something you learned while at The College — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: I learned that there are so many different topics out there and each one of them is important and someone is studying it. If you have a question about something, there's someone out there trying to answer it, or if there's not, that's the perfect topic for you. That's what I began to realize in my graduate seminars — everyone was asking questions when we'd read a piece and the professor would just say, “That’s a great paper topic.” And I started to understand that that's how research is done. Instead of just saying, “Oh, I want to research Afghanistan,” for example, instead, asking a question and then trying to figure out how you can answer it the best way that you personally can, and then someone else will try to answer it a different way. That's something that I think my undergraduate experience really built on and my graduate experience taught me how to take that and run with it and do my own research.
Q: Did you receive any scholarships or financial support while at ASU? If yes, how did those impact your experience?
A: I received the New American University scholarship which lasted four years and made college an affordable option for me. Especially with parents who did not go to college, understanding how much colleges were was kind of a wake-up call to them of realizing, “Oh, wow, this is going to be an expensive journey.” So that really helped to start my journey into school. My sophomore year I received the William D. Kavan Scholarship, which not only gave me a financial boost for the semester, allowing me to work a little bit less, but it also allowed me to get mentorship from an individual who was very well-versed in ASU and get an understanding of the dynamics of ASU and how to get all of the opportunities that I needed. My donor, Bill Kavan, helped me get into a limited class, and that class ended up shaping my eventual thesis. In my last year, I received the Graduate College Fellowship, which allowed me to have a little bit of extra financial assistance to get through this year and the pandemic.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: I've had numerous wonderful professors who have helped me get here, but I would say that Dr. Tara Lennon really helped push me along. When I received the Kavan award, there was a scholarship event and that day I had a full day of classes and I did not want to go because I was going to be so overwhelmed with all my other stuff. She convinced me that I needed to go and at that lunch, I got to meet all these wonderful people that I eventually worked with. I continued to take several of her classes after that, which all built on one another, even though they weren't necessarily connected. There was one class called, “Do you want to build a nation?” and it was my favorite class that I've ever taken. She was at my thesis defense, so she's been a presence from the end of my first class with her freshman year... She's been with me this whole time, even if just as a professor who had the classes to help me along.
Q: What advice do you have for current or future students?
A: Make sure you look up your professors and decide which ones you want to work with, even if that involves going to office hours or just taking the classes. If you're able to figure out which professors research your interests — which My ASU has a search function that is excellent for that — then you can make a new friend that can help you in navigating all these different systems, especially if you want to go to graduate school.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I will be attending Georgetown Law this fall and I hope to specialize in international law and international humanitarian law. Georgetown has a lot of human rights clinics, including one focused on women. My goal is to bring that knowledge to this clinic, to begin looking at how human rights interact with leadership, because if there aren't women leaders, then women's interests are not being adequately represented. My idea is to bring this into the international law and human rights sphere or wherever law school takes me next.