'ASU became my home': First-gen grad finds community at West campus

This spring, Yajaira Medina will graduate from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in biology.


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

As a child and young adult, Yajaira Medina encountered countless obstacles when it came to pursuing her dream of being the first in her family to go to college.  

Medina was born in Arizona and was raised in a small town in Mexico where she lived with her mother. At 13-years-old, she moved to another town in Mexico to live with her father, where she remained for one year. In order to make attending college more accessible, she then moved back to the U.S. to live with her godmother.

“I think everybody saw the dream in me but they felt they couldn't help me the way that they needed to,” Medina said.

Two years later, a 16-years-old Medina found herself in the most difficult situation she had ever experienced.

“I was working full time and I thought I could do it on my own,” she said. “However, because I wasn’t 18 I couldn’t rent an apartment by myself. I had nowhere to stay and I was homeless. I had no dad, mom or family here to help.”

Medina made it through high school with the help of friends and graduated with a 3.8 GPA. Because of her outstanding academic achievements in high school, she received a full-ride scholarship through the President Barack Obama Scholars Program. Having toured the West campus during her senior year of high school, she was eager to live on campus and finally have somewhere to call home.

“I didn't have a home before I came to ASU, and ASU became my home,” she said. “As soon as I started college I knew that I had nothing to worry about.”

This spring, Medina will graduate from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in biology. Here, she shares more about her experiences at ASU and what’s next for her.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study biology?

Answer: My first major at ASU was global management with a minor in German. Then, as I took a couple of classes, I learned that that is not where my passion lies. In my junior year of high school I had this environmental science class and we went to see a cadaver for the first time and everybody did not want to look at it or they were hesitant to go into the lab. But I was excited — I wanted to see the anatomy and I had so many questions. When I was trying to find out what I wanted to do long term, I realized that business was not my calling and my passion lay in health care and helping others. I found that biology would be the best option to learn about anatomy and take all the science classes that I need to get into that next step of pursuing a career as a pathologist assistant. 

Q: What’s the most important lesson you learned while at New College?

A: The most important lesson I learned at New College is that there's nothing that can limit you. ASU is here to help you and any hiccup that I had in my career here at ASU, there was always someone there to help me. If I was struggling with a class, I always had the Tutoring Center. New College was more than just my classes — it was like a community where I found people with the same interests as me and they were always there to help me get through those hard moments where I was questioning whether I was meant to be here or not or whether I was going to make it through graduation. There is always a helping hand.

Q: Why did you choose New College?

A: I chose New College because it's a smaller community where I felt integrated and I saw it as home. Being different was a good thing. I was able to integrate easily into the classes. With English being my second language, it was never a problem. Professors were always very helpful; even if they didn’t understand what I was trying to ask, they were always patient. The first time I came to the West campus, I was a senior in high school and I was participating in a DECA competition. I took a tour and knew this was where I wanted to be when I graduated. I like the community. You see a lot of international students here and diversity is included and not excluded.

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

A: I never thought microbiology would be my favorite class. But it became my favorite class, mainly because of the professor who taught it – Dean Sandrin. He taught me a lot of things and I remember having a lot of conversations during his office hours, not only about what I needed to understand in the class but also about life in general. At one point I had doubts about whether I wanted to apply for a master's program and how to do it or where to start. He was a guiding hand and was there to help me see that I can do it. He showed me that you can trust in yourself and then you can trust that everything is going to be OK.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plans after graduation are to apply to a master's program to become a pathologist assistant, which deals with finding answers when someone's passed away. We not only do autopsies but we also help patients in a hospital setting, helping diagnose patients and find out what they may have or how to treat or prevent diseases down the road.

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