Graduating history student reflects on times as an intern, research assistant


photo of Leah Terry

Leah Arambula Terry will graduate with a bachelor’s in history and a minor in transborder studies.

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Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Leah Arambula Terry was born and raised in central Phoenix, Arizona, to a dad who worked two jobs and a mom who took care of her sister, cousins and herself. She attended a prestigious high school and found the transition into a four-year university natural.

“I was the only person in my family to go straight to a four-year college institution after high school,” Terry said. “My parents have always been very supportive of me and my education.”

She enrolled at Arizona State University to pursue a bachelor’s in history from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and felt like it was the “right decision” from the first day of orientation. Along with her degree, she decided to minor in transborder studies.

She went beyond her classes and decided to apply for an opportunity called the Maricopa County Leadership and Education Advancing Public Service (MCLEAPS) internship program just two years into her time at ASU. The program is a special partnership between ASU and Maricopa County that offers top students hands-on experience in county departments or divisions.

Terry applied to join the environmental services department and was accepted into the program

“When I was accepted into a full-time internship with Maricopa County, my adviser Amy Kaiman and Professor Catherine O’Donnell helped me register it for course hours and it was a wonderful experience thanks to their help,” Terry said.

After completing her MCLEAPS internship, Terry decided to participate in two undergraduate research experiences. She completed one with Professor Julian Lim, summarizing archival documents for her book, and the other with O’Donnell and program coordinator senior Erin Craft, conducting a public history project with the local Emerson School.

“I felt extremely lucky to be working closely with such amazing professors and have access to historical records of border and immigration in the early 1910s and be able to work with middle school students on creating their own historical records,” Terry said.

Terry is also the winner of many scholarships including the History Scholarship Award from the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Arizona, the Wells Fargo Transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies Research Scholarship, the Local-to-Global Scholarship and Wallace Adams Memorial Scholarship.

She is graduating this semester and was asked about her time at ASU. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? (Might be while you were at ASU or earlier.)

Answer: I knew I wanted to study history in a Mexican American history class. I felt that the history was so relevant and prior to that class, I didn’t know that degree path was possible. But even history classes about topics outside my interest were great to take, like the capstone course where I was able to perfect my writing skills.

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

A: Professor Alexander Aviña’s course on Latin American revolutions completely changed my perspective on history and the world itself. My outlook on life has been shaped by my U.S., Catholic school education and learning about the international struggle against capitalism, imperialism and colonialism feels deeply valuable and crucial as I graduate from ASU into the working world.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of its affordability compared to out-of-state institutions and its proximity to my family. It also probably had something to do with my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Donaher, who was a hardcore ASU fan. 

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

A: I honestly cannot choose. Every single history professor who I have encountered has taught me a valuable lesson.

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

A: I understand that it’s hard to enjoy your experience at ASU when you have to work a job on the side and don’t get enough sleep most of the time because of it, or when you live with your family and don’t have a quiet place to study because of it. But it’s still possible to have good moments in school. Reach out to your classmates and professors and advisers and try to build a network of support to help when you need it. It’s never too late to make memories.

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

A: For a quiet area, I love the Hayden Library, especially in the new reading room on the first floor. But most of the time I like to sit right outside of the Memorial Union to stay in the center of everything.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to continue working at Andre House, a non-profit organization downtown, with the hopes of finding a job related to my degree. I aim to pursue a graduate degree in the near future. In the meantime, I’ll be on vacation celebrating four years of hard work.

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

A: I would donate half to local organizations like Black Lives Matter, Mass Liberation, Chispa AZ, etc. and the remaining half to local rental assistance. I think the world will heal when the systems designed to keep people in poverty are dismantled.

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