Outstanding Undergraduate Award recipient inspired to address social justice issues
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.
As the first in his family to earn a college degree, it wasn’t always easy for Arizona State University student Alexis Rodriguez to navigate his way through higher education. But as his time as an undergraduate comes to a close this spring and graduation is on the horizon, Rodriguez hopes to pave the way for other first-generation students like himself while creating change in his community.
During his time at ASU, Rodriguez studied social justice and human rights at the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. He knew he wanted to become a catalyst for change after he volunteered at a local nonprofit where he learned more about the challenges the Latino community faces.
“I did nonprofit work talking to voters, so I was really exposed to all the different social issues that existed within my community, specifically among Latinos, but also in my geographic and regional area,” Rodriguez said. “Through those conversations and that work, I realized that I wanted to contribute to addressing social issues.”
At ASU, Rodriguez was able to pursue his passions in a number of ways. During the spring 2022 semester, he served as an advocacy intern at the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in Washington, D.C., through ASU’s partnership with The Washington Center. In this role, he connected with social scientists and psychologists on their research and explored the importance of providing evidence-based results to influence policy and communicate results to lawmakers.
He also participated in research through the New College Undergraduate Inquiry and Research Experiences (NCUIRE) program.
This spring, Rodriguez will graduate from New College with a bachelor’s degree in social justice and human rights, with a minor in Spanish and a certificate in translation. He will be recognized with the Outstanding Undergraduate Award. Here, he shares more about his experiences at ASU and what’s next for him.
Question: Why did you choose New College?
Answer: I chose New College because it had the degree that I felt was the best fit for me. At the New College I also really liked how there was more of a community aspect to it because I was really looking for that.
Q: What’s something you learned while at New College — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: One of the things that I've been really just astonished by is the use of academia and advocacy. I’ve learned about the different ways to address social issues through academic research, including through the NCUIRE program, where I was able to use research to address gender-based violence, femicide in Mexico and how to combat human and sex trafficking. Back in the spring of 2020, I worked with a professor to interview many nonprofit organizations who worked with victims of sex trafficking, and we were able to identify common themes and learn more about the services they provide and what resources lack within the nonprofits to help survivors.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at New College?
A: I was first introduced to conducting research by Professor Heather Smith-Cannoy. It was with her that I really got that firsthand experience and started with the NCUIRE project. She really taught me from start to finish everything about a research project — from the research question to ultimately publishing that work and being able to collaborate with other authors to produce effective work.
Q: Did you encounter any challenges? If so, how have you overcome them?
A: The financial obstacles one is faced with when obtaining higher education are definitely huge challenges to overcome. One of the ways that I overcame that was by applying to scholarships, whether it be visiting ASU’s Office of National Scholarships or Financial Aid. Whenever I received a notification that I did receive a scholarship, it really just reinforced that confidence in myself to keep going and continuing my education. Being first-generation and knowing that such generosity exists from complete strangers — it's extremely impactful for me and my family because it lets me know that there's people out there believing in me.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: A piece of advice I would give to a future Sun Devil or even a first-generation student is to take the time to find your community. Here at ASU, there are so many people, so you're bound to find a nice social group of people to help you out and to overcome any challenges that you'll face throughout your college years. There are a lot of opportunities for students to take advantage of and to find that community, whether it be through internships, research experiences or extracurriculars like clubs or sports.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: After graduation, I hope to take all the skills and knowledge that I gained here at ASU and apply them to make significant change within my own community. I hope to continue doing research and also using that research to find ways to influence evidence-based policies while relating that research to the general public and finding different ways to do that.