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ASU grad finds passion for public policy through community service

A woman with long dark hair wearing a yellow blouse smiles

Vianey Garcia

December 08, 2023

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

Every student’s journey to graduation is different.

For Vianey Garcia Leal, she never would have imagined her path as a winding road that would ultimately lead to a passion in public policy and advocacy.

Vianey is a senior in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions studying public service and public policy — but her pathway to ASU didn’t begin there.

Vianey moved to the United States from Mexico, with her family, when she was just 16 years old. She later attended Glendale Community College, where she studied biomedical science before transferring to ASU.

We sat down with Vianey to talk about her journey, her time at ASU and her upcoming graduation.

Note: Answers may have been edited lightly for length or clarity.

Question: Can you share a bit about your background, and what brought you to ASU?

Answer: When I was 16, I moved from another country to the U.S. It took me a while to settle down with my family and find new friends. I went to Copper Canyon High School, and that time was difficult for me, at least at the beginning, but I started creating more friendships and putting myself out there in order to have a good experience and a meaningful learning pathway throughout.

I knew that I wanted to go to college — it didn’t matter where, I just wanted to go. But, I visited my step sisters, who were attending ASU, and I fell in love with it. I hadn’t seen anything similar to ASU while in the U.S. I felt like I could see myself there, even though I was still a sophomore in high school and still learning English.

I started volunteering at Chicanos por la Causa (CPLC), a nonprofit organization that operates throughout the Southwest of the U.S. CPLC does a lot of social work for immigrant, Hispanic and low-income communities in the heart of Phoenix. I got to meet a lot of people (and) families and learn about their background, and that impacted my life very positively. I was so grateful for those experiences and to know this new community. CPLC actually made ASU a possibility because I was able to apply for scholarships they offer to students of Hispanic and low-income backgrounds. 

Q: When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in public service and policy?

A: I wanted to be more active in my community, but I also didn’t see my passions as something that I could make a living off in the future. I felt like it was more important to pursue an education that would lead to a successful career financially.

At that time I was at Glendale Community College. I started as a biomedical science major, but as I volunteered and explored more, I found my passion in law and policy. I realized that public service and policy was truly the career path I wanted to take when parents of the children I worked with at the Youth Enrichment program would visit to thank me for all my work and for my contribution to their children’s education. It felt amazing to hear those words from families and to know that I had made a positive impact.

I was very scared to change my major, but at some point I realized that I could see myself continuing that work in the future. I also added a minor in political science, because I was involved in the political advocacy work of CPLC. 

Q: Since you transferred to ASU, you have been very engaged with the ASU community. How has your time at ASU contributed to your vision of your future career?

A: When I transferred I was still heavily involved in community service with CPLC, but I wanted to be involved on campus as well. I joined the Undergraduate Law Association, and last summer I was part of the 2023 Sacramento Scholarship program, where we traveled to California and met with policymakers.

I learned more than I thought was possible in those three months, and it was such a valuable internship. I gained a lot of independence, living in Sacramento during that time, and had the opportunity to network with other students in the program and with the California Senate. It was a life-changing experience.

Q: More recently, you’ve participated in the Lincoln Scholars Program and the Lincoln Center’s Chautauqua Student Advisory Council, which involved a visit to Washington, D.C., to talk about responsible and intergenerational A.I. What was that like?

A: When I finished the Sacramento Scholarship program, I didn’t think I would have another chance to join other programs before graduation. But then I was approached by the Lincoln Center to join the Chautauqua Student Advisory Council, and it was such an amazing experience. I was able to work with so many people who were in different fields of discipline, and was able to collaborate with the leadership from Chautauqua. Now, I feel like I can speak more to others across backgrounds. I also learned a lot about the benefits and consequences of AI technologies and the ethics of it.

It was great going to D.C., as it made me realize that I would want to work there; I would want to be in that city and do meaningful work in policy. I look back at my decision to change majors, and I don’t regret taking that big step. 

Q: Everyone hates this question — but, what does the future hold for you, now that graduation is right around the corner?

A: Yes, it’s right around the corner! And it’s nerve-racking because looking back it felt like I would be in school forever, and now it feels like it was yesterday when I transferred. But, I am happy and confident to say that I have a plan for my future. I am pursuing a career in public service and hope that in a few years I can attend law school.

I used to stress a lot about the future, but over time that feeling has gone away, and I don’t feel as overwhelmed. I think we find our way to the place we are meant to be.

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