First-generation ASU graduate aims to improve education for Hispanic women
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.
Valeria Reyes, who has been an incredibly diligent and ambitious student during her journey at ASU, will graduate this May with degrees in French and justice studies, alongside certificates in disability studies, human rights and teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL).
Reyes was born and raised in Mesa and as a child of immigrants from Mexico, she is bilingual in Spanish and English. Despite always having an interest in Hispanic culture, Reyes chose to pursue a degree in French and was later inspired to add a concurrent degree in justice studies after gaining an interest in the inequalities of education and learning about the judicial system. She ultimately wants to use her degrees to pursue a career in teaching.
“Being a first-generation Hispanic student has given me a unique perspective on the importance of education, and I think that there are many areas within education that still fail to support every student,” Reyes said. “This is why I want to help reform the education system in some way — reviewing policies, creating new curriculums, etc. — to help combat the inequalities present within the system.”
Reyes' interest in education reform is centered in her Barrett, The Honors College undergraduate thesis, "Implications of Intersectionality on the Education of Hispanic Females in Arizona." She attributes her exposure to the importance of intersectionality to her time at ASU and cites it as guiding her studies of culture and justice. She chose her area of study for her thesis, which won her a Quesada Scholarship, because she said is an under-researched topic.
She was also awarded the High Impact Internship Award from ASU's English Department for her work with nonprofit Read Better Be Better, focused on improving literacy and fostering a love for reading in Arizona youths. She was also awarded the New American Scholar Award and Obama Scholarship.
Reyes expands more about her academic journey below.
Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: I think for my French degree, my “aha” moment was actually in high school because I had a really great high-school French teacher, who showed us how great French was and taught us all about French culture. So, I knew from high school that I really wanted to pursue French in college. That was the first major I came in with at ASU. Then, with the justice studies major, I took an elective course about the judicial system and the courts, and from there that's where I got interested in all the justice studies topics because I realized there's a lot of issues that are going on in society. So, I wanted to learn more about different issues not just in courts, but for society as a whole. That's when I started pursuing that justice studies degree.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: Not really in the classroom, but I think just overall in my experience at ASU I learned you don't really have to have everything completely figured out. When I came in as a freshman I was like, “Oh, my God! I need to figure out everything and have all these plans and have A, B and C ready for after graduation.” Then, slowly as I started going through everything and my classes got harder I was like, “You know, it's okay if you don't have it all figured out.” A lot of people actually don’t, and even talking with professors made me realize that most of the time they don't even know what they're doing, either. We're all kind of figuring it out as we go. It's OK if you don't know exactly what you're gonna do or where you're gonna go after.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: I really had to think about this one because there have been a lot of great professors that I've got to learn from, but I think one of my top favorites was Professor (Frederic) Canovas in the School of International Letters and Cultures. He's one of the French professors, and he really taught me to appreciate French literature. The whole idea of French literature and what he teaches is the importance of balance in life. So, that's one of the greatest lessons I've learned from him is that too much of one thing or too little of another thing is never gonna be the best for you. You have to find some sort of balance between doing what you love, and doing something that makes you money, for example. So, I think Professor Canovas was, and his French literature classes were some of the best ones.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to students?
A: My best piece of advice is to keep trying, even when it's really, really hard. I know there were times where I was ready to give up because school seemed like it was going to last forever and like I was always going to have assignments. But it does end eventually. So, I would just say, keep trying. Even if it's just doing your best job that you can possibly do. Even if it's not the complete 100% perfect that it can be. Just as long as you're trying, and you're pushing through to the end.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: My favorite spot for studying is Armstrong Hall. I actually work there, too, but I really like the basement because it's pretty quiet. I feel like not a lot of people know about the basement because it's kind of on the outskirts of campus, so it's usually pretty empty. And then for hanging out, it's probably the MU just because you can get food and you can play downstairs.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I'm currently waiting to hear back from a French teaching program, the Teaching Assistant Program in France, to see if I got in. I’m impatiently waiting for the email to see if I got it or not because they're supposed to send it this month. So, then I would be going to the south of France and teach English there for a year. If not, I would find a job and then later on probably do grad school in either education or law.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: Because of what I've studied and the justice studies courses I've taken, I would say that I would tackle the inequalities within education. I would like to see an education system that helps students not only become good students by catering to the specific skills and talents of each student, but also good human beings. I feel like in the educational system students are often categorized into boxes, and if you don't fit into those boxes then you're not going to get the resources you need in that education. So yeah, I would tackle those inequalities in education and hopefully, that would lead to other changes as well.