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Outstanding undergraduate finds confidence through on-campus involvement


Michelle Gradillas in her graduation robe, hat and stole

Michelle Gradillas graduates this fall from Arizona State University's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with a forensic psychology degree.

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December 02, 2022

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

When Michelle Gradillas first began her Arizona State University journey in 2019, she considered herself shy — the kind of person who wouldn't raise her hand in class or voice her opinions. This fall, as her undergraduate experience comes to a close, Gradillas will take the stage at the university’s Hispanic Convocation as the Jose A. Ronstadt Outstanding Undergraduate to share remarks about her journey of personal growth.

Gradillas, originally from Nogales, Arizona, was inspired to attend ASU by other members of her family who took a similar path.

“Ever since I knew what college was, I knew I wanted to come here,” she said. “When I was looking for universities, I saw that ASU aligned with what I wanted and I saw all the resources they had.”

As a forensic psychology major, Gradillas spent all four years of her program at ASU’s West campus, home to the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Right away, Gradillas pushed herself outside of her comfort zone and became involved on the West campus in a number of ways, including as a student worker in New College’s Outreach and Events department and as a senator for Undergraduate Student Government (USG). 

Throughout her time with USG, Gradillas took on a number of roles. She was the co-chair of the committee on university affairs and the chairperson of appropriations, as well as a committee member for the hearing board, the student regent search committee and the game day committee.

“All those opportunities gave me a lot of chances to grow in confidence,” she said. “I don't think I'd be able to sit here and speak publicly if it weren't for all those opportunities. They really forced me to push out of my bubble and think outside of the box.”

“I feel like myself. I feel very comfortable being myself in all these different positions and expressing my opinion. I was very shy. Now I feel like what I have to say is important. I feel more empowered thanks to everything I was involved in.”

This fall, Gradillas will receive a bachelor's degree in forensic psychology and a certificate in homeland security. Here, she shares more about her experiences at ASU and what’s next for her.

Question: Did you have an “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study forensic psychology? What drew you to the West campus?

Answer: For my major I was torn between mental health and law enforcement. For the longest time, I thought I wanted to go to law school, but that ended up not being something I wanted to pursue further. Forensic psychology was kind of a mix of both. It combined law enforcement and criminal behavior so that solidified my decision. I liked the West campus because when I toured it seemed like everyone said hi to you, everyone knew you by name. I liked that coming from a smaller hometown; I didn't want to jump right into a big city.

Q: What is something you learned while at your college in the classroom or otherwise that surprised you to change your perspective?

A: New College taught me that it’s alright to not have my whole life figured out. At my freshman orientation, Dean Sandrin gave us a talk about how students nowadays are going to go into careers that don't exist yet. So throughout my college experience, I kind of kept that in the back of my head when I was feeling uncertain or questioning if I’m doing the right thing. Hearing that helped me realize that life is unpredictable but with patience everything will work itself out. 

Q: Did you experience any obstacles along your way? If yes, how did you overcome them? 

A: The biggest obstacle for me was the sudden switch to online learning during COVID-19. I was the type of person that had to be in a classroom to be able to focus. When the pandemic hit, that was no longer an option and I had to learn to eliminate the distractions that were present at home. I set up a little home office that acted as a classroom for me. My little desk also helped separate school and work from leisure time and activities.

Q: Did you receive any scholarships or financial support while at ASU? How did those impact your experience?

A: I had the Obama Scholarship, the Provost Award and the ASU Community Leadership Scholarship. All of that combined not only covered my education, but it also helped cover my cost of living. I was able to not have to worry, thankfully, about how to live while attending college. I was able to spend my time taking other opportunities like volunteering or unpaid opportunities thanks to my scholarships.

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

A: I would tell current students to never be afraid to step out of their shell and take opportunities that may seem scary to them. I ran for election with USG without knowing a single person and that turned into one of the best decisions I made while in school. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask for help. There are a ton of resources at your disposal and take full advantage of them. I promise you, if you go up to someone and ask them for help, they will help you. They will try to help you. And if they don't know the answer, they will point you in the direction of someone who does know the answer and will be able to help you.

Furthering your education not only provides you with knowledge, it provides you with the opportunity to grow professionally and as a human stepping out of your comfort zone, going to classes that are challenging or that you might not have wanted to take really challenges you to push yourself.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation I am going to take some time to travel. I will be celebrating the completion of my degree and the new year in Paris, France. After that I hope to come back to school and get my master's degree in counseling. In the future, I want to work with the government and be the person who interviews child victims. I want to be there to advocate for people who don't really have the power to speak out most of the time; I want to be that voice for them.

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