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18-year-old neuroscience grad encourages students to persevere despite challenges

A student at ASU graduation looks up as confetti falls at the end of the ceremony

Dallas Salas looks up as streamers fall at the end of ASU's Undergraduate Commencement on Dec. 11 at Mountain America Stadium on the Tempe campus. Salas graduated with a bachelor's degree in neuroscience. Photo by FJ Gaylor for ASU

December 01, 2023

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

Dallas Salas stands apart from the typical 18-year-old, having faced challenges beyond the normal for someone his age.

Growing up, he experienced homelessness, violence and crime in the family, as well as a battle with leukemia at a young age.

Salas attributes his drive to his upbringing, which molded him into who he is today. Fueled by a deep passion for neuroscience, he is graduating this fall with a Bachelor of Science in neuroscience, hoping to begin a path toward a career as a neurosurgeon.

“The reason I am on a path to neurosurgery is due to my family’s medical history. My grandfather died of a tumor, and my aunt had an aneurysm and other neurological complications,” Salas said. “Also, my battle with leukemia provided me with a sense of understanding of what it’s like to be a patient. I want to use that as a way to help others.”

He attended ASU Prep Digital for high school, an accredited K–12 online school affiliated with Arizona State University. There, he connected with teachers and academic success coaches who helped him form a plan for academic success.

By taking courses at ASU Prep Digital, Rio Salado Community College and ASU Earned Admission courses, he earned credits that put him on an accelerated path to college.

Once he arrived at ASU, Salas immersed himself in the university. He joined Neurodevils, ASU’s neuroscience club, helping to foster collaboration with other students passionate about neuroscience.

He also dove into research at the Memory and Attention Control (MAC) Laboratory, investigating human behavior's memory and attention process. From the start, conducting research and being in a lab hooked him.

“The atmosphere of the lab engulfed me,” he said. “We focused on a lot of memory and attention control, which piqued my interest because I have a bad memory and attention. It helped me understand what grabs our attention as humans.”

Steering into his love for research, Salas joined a group of online students that presented at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ first-ever Online Undergraduate Research Scholars (OURS) Symposium.

Headshot selfie of ASU grad

Dallas Salas

His group shared the results of their research project focused on replicating the multiprocess theory of prospective memory.

Taking part in the research and presenting it at the online symposium was an experience that will live in his brain as one of his favorites.

“What an amazing experience it was. I loved it,” he said. “Getting the chance to take a lead with my other group members on a research project was amazing. We worked together from the beginning of the project to the end and presented it at the symposium.

“As an online student, that opportunity and chance to connect with other online students was fantastic. That experience will stay with me forever.”

Salas shared more about what he learned from the experience and his plans for the future. Here's what he had to say.

Question: What did you learn at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: One of the more exciting things I’ve learned is how much knowledge your brain can take in. Many think our brains can absorb a finite amount of information, which is untrue. Your brain can take in an insane amount of knowledge. You just have to learn how to take it all in.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I loved my time and experiences at ASU Prep Digital. While there for my prep education, I had a great time, and the resources provided were terrific. It gave me a clear picture of ASU and provided me with a path to achieve what I wanted to do.

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lessons at ASU?

A: Associate Professor Gene Brewer with the MAC Lab. He truly impacted my life and shaped all of my neuroscience questions. He was always there for me when I had questions about my studies or research projects and helped shape my thinking.

Also, Assistant Teaching Professor Rachel Bristol. She teaches in a way that is compassionate and understanding of us when we are trying to learn a lot of complex topics. It’s like she took a class on teaching and giving lectures and completely aced it.

Q: What’s your best advice for someone still in school?

A: First is perseverance. You’re going to face adversity and fail, but whatever you do, don’t give up. Because as long as you don’t give up, you will never truly fail.

The second is to learn how to manage your loneliness. Everyone needs a support group. For me, it was harder to find being an online student, but through my classes and lab experiences, I have found a support group through those with the same interests. This is especially important.

Q: What is your plan for the future?

A: I want to go to law school and learn more about civil rights and LGBTQ+ rights. But I also will always have a deep passion for neuroscience, and going to medical school to be a neurosurgeon is a path I want to pursue.

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