First-gen Mexican immigrant reflects on her journey to a PhD

December 8, 2021

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

Over 20 years ago, Arizona State University student Angélica Amezcua and her family emigrated from Jalisco, Mexico, to the U.S. so she and her siblings could continue their education. This fall, Angélica Amezcua will graduate from ASU with her PhD in Spanish ​​with a concentration in heritage language pedagogy and a certificate in computer-assisted language learning. Download Full Image

“My parents knew that education is the key to many opportunities,” Amezcua said. “Therefore, they were willing to do anything possible to make sure my siblings and I received a good education, even if it meant leaving everything behind and starting a new life in the U.S.”

As she started to learn English, her Spanish literacy began to diminish due to a lack of language resources available. This loss of her native language has been a driving force for Amezcua, leading her to ​​become a lifelong advocate for bilingualism in academia.

For six years, Amezcua has been teaching Spanish to heritage languageA minority language learned by its speakers at home as children, but never fully developed because of insufficient input from the social environment. speakers. In her role as a graduate teaching associate in the School of International Letters and Cultures, she taught Spanish to both second language learners and heritage language speakers

While at ASU she also had the opportunity to collaborate with faculty and peers on a study on critical language awareness. The study set out to explore the development of critical heritage language awareness in the classroom by measuring the students’ level of awareness of key topics that are important to understanding the sociopolitical reality of Spanish as a heritage language in the U.S.

Amezcua has continued to conduct research of this nature in her new role as an assistant professor of Spanish and the director of the Spanish heritage language program at the University of Washington.

“I am proud that I was able to obtain this position and I am able to continue my research that examines how university Spanish heritage language courses can play an important role in promoting the use of Spanish in the United States, counteracting the devaluation of minority languages and contributing to narrow the Latinx student achievement gap,” she said. “Similarly important, I am proud that in this position I have the opportunity to work with first-generation students whose parents are also farmworkers just like mine.”

This fall, Amezcua will graduate with her PhD in Spanish ​​with a concentration in heritage language pedagogy and a certificate in computer-assisted language learning. She shared advice for students as well as lessons she learned through her Sun Devil journey.

Editor's note: Some answers have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: At the time, the School of International Letters and Cultures had just hired Sara Beaudrie. She, along with other linguists in the department, opened the Spanish heritage language track in the PhD program. Therefore, the opportunity to work with her and complete a PhD with a focus in Spanish heritage language education is why I chose ASU.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I learned a lot about my potential, and I also learned to believe in myself. There were many times that I had let the imposter syndrome haunt me and allowed it to underestimate my potential. But throughout the years at ASU I have learned that this is a syndrome that I cannot get rid of, because it is not a syndrome, it is actually the reality of people of color like myself, particularly because the higher education system places many obstacles for people of color to overcome in their journey to achieve their academic goals. I have encountered many obstacles at ASU, but thanks to the mentorship I have received from faculty and the unconditional support of many friends and colleagues, I will be the first one in my entire family to obtain a PhD.

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

A: I reached this goal thanks to the mentorship and unconditional support of many professors at ASU. One is Sara Beaudrie — I still remember when I was in her bilingualism course my second semester at ASU, and she guided me to put together my first solo publication. Having this research published gave me the confidence to keep on going and understand that I also have insights to contribute to the field of Spanish heritage language. 

I am forever in debt with my other mentors: Katie Bernstein, Michael Gradoville, Ligia Bezerra, Alfredo Artiles, Marta Tecedor and Isabel Velazquez, for their suggestions and insightful conversations in the process of writing my dissertation. They pushed me to discover my potential as an educator and as a researcher. They always believed in me even when I doubted myself.

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

A: Never compare yourself to anyone; everyone is unique. Everyone is capable of completing anything. Everyone goes to their own rhythm. Understand that you are your own competition. Therefore, go at your own pace because only you know what steps you must take to reach your goals.

Emily Balli

Manager of marketing and communications, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

School of Earth and Space Exploration Dean’s Medalist discovers her passion for research

December 8, 2021

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

Megan McGroarty is the Fall 2021 Dean’s Medalist for the School of Earth and Space Exploration.  Smiling girl with ocean in background Megan McGroarty, School of Earth and Space Exploration fall 2021 Dean's Medalist, will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in astrobiology and biogeosciences, a minor in German and a certificate in sustainable food systems. Download Full Image

She is also a Barrett, The Honors College student and will graduate from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in astrobiology and biogeosciences, a minor in German and a certificate in sustainable food systems. 

McGroarty, a native of Pennsylvania, took full advantage of the interdisciplinary opportunities at ASU and worked as a docent in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. The docents at the school play a vital role in its operations, including providing guest services and tours of the Gallery of Scientific Exploration. During her time as a docent, McGroaty became an expert tour guide, hosting K–12 school groups, parents, alumni, VIPs and members of the public. 

Despite the challenges she faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and having to return home to Pennsylvania for most of 2020, McGroarty demonstrated great perseverance and initiative by adapting to a virtual environment. In her docent role, she learned to give engaging tours over Zoom and showed by example what it is like to be a successful student in the STEM environment. For her studies, she was both proactive and creative, getting the bulk of her thesis project completed remotely, despite not being able to be on campus.

Heather Throop, associate professor in both the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Life Sciences, was McGroarty’s thesis adviser. She recalls meeting her in the Camp SESE program.

“She stood out because she asked enthusiastic questions about the research in my lab,” said Throop. “Then she followed up on this interest in her second semester when she asked to volunteer in the lab. It was quickly apparent that her keen enthusiasm and powerhouse intellect would be a great asset.” 

When McGroarty and Throop started discussing the possibility of her doing an honors thesis project in Throop's lab, McGroarty's enthusiasm for research solidified. 

“For her honors thesis, Megan collaborated to design, coordinate and implement a field experiment that is addressing critical questions about how carbon cycling in deserts will respond to climate change,'' said Throop. “It was a huge effort to create this distributed experiment with sites in all five deserts of the Western U.S., especially with the challenges of COVID. Megan’s hard work and enthusiasm kept this research moving forward.”

While McGroarty has always been interested in studying science, it was the support from the School of Earth and Space Exploration and experiences at ASU that helped her discover what she is passionate about in research. She credits Throop with some of those lessons. 

“Professor Throop taught me how to think independently and navigate on my own,” said McGroarty, “which is a skill I will take with me into the future.” 

After graduation, McGroarty plans to continue her studies in graduate school next fall. We asked her to share about her time here at ASU.  

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: Getting involved and putting yourself out there can be extremely rewarding. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of my major and how interdisciplinary the university is. I was always amazed by how much this large university had to offer, yet it still had this smaller community within Barrett and the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

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

A: Take breaks and remember to take care of yourself. 

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

A: Outside of the Hayden Library, the northside sub-patio courtyard (the area to the right with the underground Hayden library entrance to the west and Life Sciences Building E Wing to the east). This area was always excellent, as it was shaded and provided relief from the Arizona heat, and it is a relatively quiet place for being in the middle of campus.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduating a semester early, I plan to head back to the East Coast for a bit. I am hoping to attend graduate school next fall.

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

A: This is a tricky question to answer, and there are unlimited possibilities for what one could do with that kind of money. My first thought would be to give money to community programs, whatever that may be if it is for homelessness, nutritional food programs, etc. — maybe a lot of change could come from a more local level.

Media Relations and Marketing Manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration