Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.
Zuzana Skvarkova’s path to graduation has been all but linear. As a transfer to Arizona State University, Skvarkova’s educational journey has been full of many twists and turns, but somewhere amidst the detours, she found herself and exactly how she intended to make her impact on society.
Originally from Bratislava, Slovakia, she came to the United States with her family when she was four years old. She was raised in a suburb outside of Boston. After high school she headed for a nearby liberal arts college before she transferred to Arizona State University. It was during this time that her experiences made her question how equitable and accessible higher education was to historically excluded demographics.
However, it wasn’t until her early 20s when she had the biggest breakthrough of her life – Skvarkova was diagnosed as autistic. Her experiences gave her a new purpose: to become a physician and a disability rights activist.
“It reinforced that I want to go and be a physician to work in that inequity space for disability justice and disabled individuals,” Skvarkova says. ”So often, we don't even understand the inequity and health disparity gaps that we give to disabled individuals.”
Passionate about the intersection of disability justice and health policy in the field of both clinical and academic medicine, she hopes to pursue a career as a physician. Her goal is to help broaden the current medical health model to more equitably provide care for all disabled individuals, with their needs and wants at the forefront of their care.
Finding the bachelor’s degree in innovation and society, in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society within the College of Global Futures, fits her goals well. ASU, its charter for inclusion and the program provided her with the platform that she needed to excel academically and professionally. She has been acknowledged for her service work through various awards, such as the school’s Charter Award for Excellence and the Committee for Campus Inclusion’s Catalyst Award.
During her time at ASU, she served as the president of ASU’s Women in STEM organization, as an instructional aide for a general biology course at the Downtown Phoenix campus and started the Pre-Medical Disabled Student Association, the nation’s first student organization dedicated to creating a community for disabled individuals applying for medical school.
“I was able to accomplish all of these things partly because I knew how to properly advocate for myself in an educational setting, but also because I finally found a place that supported the dreams and goals I had. I fully believe that absolutely everybody can excel in education," she said. "Oftentimes, its barriers that are rooted in matters of inaccessibility that lead to students falling through the cracks, not how “intelligent” they are. That said, when an educational institution empowers a charter like ASU’s that values inclusion and emphasizes accessibility across all domains, you create an ecosystem of diverse thinkers that excel beyond what can be learned just from textbooks.”
Here she answers some questions about her time at ASU.
Question: What are your plans after graduation?
Answer: I plan to work as a full-time research assistant for Dr. Robert Cook-Deegan for the next year and then apply to medical school. Additionally, in the year before applying to medical school, I hope to continue working on establishing my nonprofit geared toward increasing disability justice and tackling accessibility issues across education, workforce and health care that the disability community faces. Hopefully, I can also continue to engage in my advocacy work by continuing to participate in speaking engagements and finishing my first book.
Q: Do you have a favorite spot on campus? Whether for studying, meeting friends, or just thinking about life?
A: I really like the Social Sciences Building with all the trees and the plants that they have there. It feels very serene and peaceful.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: While society often advertises a very linear path to achievement and success, very often the journey to accomplishing your goals is everything but that. My path toward graduating college was full of twists and turns, but ultimately I found myself and who I want to become in this world amongst those detours. That said, the best piece of advice I could give to anyone in school is to embrace the experiences you come across along your journey that exist outside the box; there is no “correct” way to obtain a degree.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: Well, there’s a lot of problems on the planet that need to be tackled, but if I could only choose one then I would most likely use it to continue on in my efforts to tackle disability rights issues. I would tackle disability justice and the inequities that disabled individuals face that are currently embedded in many societal structures by focusing on accessibility and reworking the way that our systems are built. That said, $40 million most likely would not be close to enough to tackle how intricate and expansive the problem of ableism is in our society. However, it would be a great starting point to build off of to enact positive and equitable solutions.
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