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First-gen transfer student reflects on journey from rural farming community to graduation


ASU grad Jose Pelagio-Ayala wearing his graduation regalia while standing in front of a brick wall and shrubbery.

This spring, Jose Pelagio-Ayala will graduate from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in communication.

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May 12, 2022

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

First-generation student Jose Pelagio-Ayala grew up in Tonopah, Arizona, in a rural farming community one hour west of Arizona State University’s West campus. 

“I come from a community where it's predominantly migrant workers,” Pelagio-Ayala said. “Our parents are coming from another country and they're seeing some type of success, at least relative to where they came from, so a lot of times kids that are already there see that as a win and they don't want to keep going.”

However, after graduating from high school, Pelagio-Ayala knew he wanted to continue his education journey and pursue college. In 2020 he earned his associate degree at Glendale Community College. From there, he applied to ASU and was interested in gaining a deeper understanding of human communication.

“Here at ASU, one of my first classes was Communicating Science with Professor Wentzel,” he said. “That class really taught me the value of being able to communicate very complicated things. It's worth its weight in gold to be able to synthesize complicated ideas and be able to communicate them in layman's terms.”

Throughout his two years at the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, Pelagio-Ayala’s driving force was to uplift his community while creating a pathway to success for future generations of his family.

“By being able to come here to the New College, I really understood what kind of impact that had on me and what kind of impact I can have on the kids that are coming from the same community, because they don't see anything else,” he said. “I'm going to be the first person to graduate with a bachelor's degree from my community since it's been established, and for me to be able to show that to the next generation and my nieces and nephews that are in school right now that it's possible — it means the world to me.”

This spring, Pelagio-Ayala will graduate from the New College with a bachelor’s degree in communication. Here, he shares more about his experiences at ASU and what’s next for him.

Question: What is something you learned in the classroom or otherwise at New College that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: I think two of the biggest things that I learned were how important mental health is, how we can communicate that and how those kinds of conversations are becoming a lot more normal. Secondly, I learned how important this whole system is as a first-generation student. To have the ability to be here, I was able to start important conversations in my community and show how important it is to have this opportunity.

Q: What was your favorite place or spot on the West campus for studying or meeting friends?

A: The Sun Devil Fitness Complex on the West campus was my favorite spot. Whether it was just playing basketball or lifting weights to get my mind off of everything that was going on or just sitting around on the couches and talking to people, having fun, meeting new friends and studying — that was my escape from everything.

Q: What's the best piece of advice you would give to someone still in school?

A: The best piece of advice I have is to communicate. Have fun, meet different people and make friends. I think the biggest thing that we end up taking away from college is the ability to communicate with other people. In our generation and in society where we're living our lives online, making friends and communicating is sometimes lost, so just get out there, have fun and talk to different people.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I want to continue my career in real estate. I want to open my own real estate consulting firm in the future. More importantly though, I want to start different economics clubs in the state of Arizona to teach students how to transition after high school into higher education and about financial literacy at the most basic level to advanced levels. I think that the two best ways for kids to get out of poverty like I had to are higher education and financial literacy. It's two things that we really don't focus on and we don't speak about, especially from the community where I'm from. 

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