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Barrett Outstanding Graduate brings history, art, culture and language to life


Photo of Ruby Maderafont

Ruby Maderafont

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May 03, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

As a child, school field trips to the Art Institute and the Field Museum in Chicago piqued Ruby Maderafont’s interest in history, culture, art and science.

Maderafont combined these interests as a student in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University and will receive a bachelor’s degree in museum studies with a minor in Spanish this spring.

TheyMaderafont uses they/them pronouns. also have been named as the Outstanding Graduate for Service and Leadership by Barrett, The Honors College.

“Ruby Maderafont has an extraordinary record of accomplishments at ASU, in their early professional activities and awards at the Smithsonian, and in the several communities in which Ruby has taken leadership roles: LGBTQ+ and Latino students and artists. Ruby’s accomplishments seamlessly bridge academic, community and professional activities,” said Julie Codell, ASU professor of art history, who nominated Maderafont for the award.

Maderafont, a Herberger Institute Dean’s list student, Hispanic Scholarship Fund Scholar and ASU New American University Scholarship recipient, not only excelled academically, but professionally as well in research and internships.

They were a researcher and intern in the Latino Museum Studies Program at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Latino in Washington, D.C., where they researched visitor accessibility and engagement for future implementation. They also interned with ASU’s Center for Archaeology and Society Repository, focusing on the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, ethics of artifact collection and repatriation procedures and connections among community, culture and collections.

Maderafont received the LGBTQIA+ Devils’ Pride Alumni Chapter Scholarship for their commitment to supporting the LGBTQ community and the Barrett Gold Standard Award for exceptional involvement in the honors community.  

They also were given the ASU Pitchfork Award for Outstanding Cultural, Diversity and Inclusion Program for efforts in reforming the Gender Inclusive Housing accommodations at ASU with the Barrett LGBTQ+ Club and the Rainbow Coalition.

Maderafont was a guest panelist offering insights as a student leader in cultural affairs at the Intercultural Competency and the Future of Work Convening by the Lumina Foundation in fall 2022. They presented in Spanish an evidence-based argument on how stereotypical representations in the media can negatively impact the Latino community at the ASU Spanish as a Heritage Language Undergraduate Conference in fall 2021.

Maderafont looked back on their undergraduate experience at ASU below.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I visited museums during school trips and felt like the scholastic environment that they provide was a comfortable space for me. I visited the exhibitions at places like the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum on school trips, seeing many works that piqued my interest and allowed me to conceptualize the perspective of their creators and the historical narratives displayed. Within the field of cultural institutions, there is an interdisciplinary overlap of the arts, the sciences, history and education— all subjects I've adored since I was little. After looking into career options in the museum field, I found that my interests align well with those professions, making it my ideal career path. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: My perspective on museums and the role of cultural institutions changed significantly. Through ASU's art history/museum studies courses, my internship with the ASU Center for Archaeology and Society Repository, and ASU's partnership with the Smithsonian's Latino Museum Studies Program, I learned about the role of colonization and conquest in the foundation of museums and the movement to address this legacy by centering underrepresented communities. I used to think that museums were beacons of objective knowledge, but museums are not objective spaces and require a critical lens when presenting historical and cultural narratives. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose to attend ASU for the resources and support I knew the university would provide as I pursued my education. My dad is an alumnus, so he showed me what a college education at ASU looks like as he had the opportunity to study abroad and learn skills that prepared him for his career. I wanted access to these unique opportunities, and I've found them here at ASU.

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

A: It's hard to quantify the importance of what each professor taught me, and many contributed to my success. I will say that Professor Julie Codell has been especially supportive throughout my undergraduate studies and continues to teach me to trust myself and my creativity. 

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

A: Do not underestimate or limit yourself. If you are in the midst of stress and doubting yourself, reflect on what you have accomplished so far. You made it this far, so you can make it a little further, even if that means taking a breather and asking for help. Ultimately, set yourself up for your version of success. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus is the Rainbow Coalition office in the Student Pavilion. It's a comfortable room in the middle of the Tempe campus and was a wonderful central location for when I had spare time before and after class to chill, eat food from the Memorial Union and work on homework.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on working in the field of cultural institutions and nonprofits while I research and apply for graduate programs. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Money alone will not solve many of the prevalent issues facing our planet, especially when these issues overlap and have deeply rooted histories and systems that perpetuate these problems. I think that money could go toward underfunded educational programs that foster awareness and creativity in potential changemakers and demonstrate how to positively contribute to one's community. This would ideally include resources that would enable people to learn and operate without barriers, addressing food insecurity, mental health needs, housing and more. This all sounds vague, but ultimately, solving one problem on our planet means addressing many. 

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