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First-generation grad earns master's degree in social justice and human rights

Rockell Schmidt

Rockell Schmidt will graduate this spring from New College with a Master's in Social Justice and Human Rights. Courtesy photo

May 03, 2024

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Rockell Schmidt comes across as a passionate and driven individual with a strong commitment to social justice and human rights. She has always been politically active and values programs that align with her desire to create positive change and promote equity.

This spring, she is graduating with a master's degree in social justice and human rights, and was nominated as an Outstanding Graduate from Arizona State University's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

Her decision to study at ASU was influenced by her familiarity with the institution and its alignment with her academic interests. Through her experiences at New College, she has gained a deeper understanding of social injustices and the importance of working towards rectifying them.

Rockell's first-generation college status holds significant meaning for her and her family, representing achievement and setting a precedent for future generations.

As an online student, Rockell appreciated the flexibility that allows her to balance her studies with her professional commitments. Looking towards the future, she says she values personal growth and learning, maintaining an open perspective on her career path.

Note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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

Answer: I've always been a very political, very active person. For me it was really important to be in a program that valued social justice and human rights.I had a passion to do something, to do more, to make sure that equity and justice are being centered. And social justice and human rights was exactly that. I felt like I combined my passions, but also making sure that I was able to educate myself and make sure that I had a platform to stand on.

Q: Why did you choose New College?

A: I chose New College because it was something that I knew that I would be able to succeed in. There was something that I was familiar with.I had a great experience in my undergrad. I knew ASU, and I knew that it had to be social justice and human rights, and it was just the luck of the draw that I landed here and really enjoyed it.

Q: What's something that you learned while at New College that surprised you, or changed your perspective? Why?

A: I have been able to engage in research here at New College in the U.S. citizenship and Immigration line with Doctor Colbern and it has been incredible. ... Recognizing that there are injustices, inequalities and how we can work together to make sure that those are rectified, has made it a great experience. It's been incredible to see the academic side of that and how we really move forward.

Q: What has your experience been like as an online student and why did you choose online learning?

A: Primarily the reason why I chose online was because I am a working professional. I just love the flexibility of being an online student. I can take classes anywhere. That really was the biggest pull for me, especially because I live downtown. Coming to the West (Valley) campus in the middle of rush hour takes well over an hour. ... So really the flexibility that online learning provides is unmatched, and it's definitely been helpful for me.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am going to stick at my current job. I think that I'm learning a lot where I'm at, and I work in research operations, so that's been really interesting. I haven't really ever been in the business world in the way that I am now. It’s exciting to see how we budget our accounts and how many projects we are working on.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years or more? How do you feel that your college has helped you to get there?

A: I don't know where I will see myself in 10 years. I always liked to have a very open perspective with that. I see myself as someone who is very much a planner — like when I graduated in undergrad, I graduated early because I had a job, and that job fell through. And it was horrifying for someone like me who had all of my steps planned. And that's what led me to work in France, teaching English. And that really was one of the best decisions. So since then, I have been trying to just be more flexible. I believe if things are meant to be, it'll work out and I'll figure it out. I'll figure it out when I get there. For me, being a learner is really the biggest thing I want to progress. Now working at ASU is huge because I do get to take classes and I do get to add that into just my work.

Q: Why are you passionate about social justice and human rights?

A: I have always been passionate about social justice and human rights, even as a kid. I am usually able to pick out some weaknesses very quickly, like, "no, that's not OK." And that has always been something that I have recognized very easily. From there, I want to change that. I want to make sure that when we see something that is not fair, when we see something that is inequitable, that we are being given the chance to really make a better future. Because it's undeniable that the world is unfair and it's undeniable to look at that and to be like: "Yeah, that's fine." I think that if we don't do anything, it will never get any better.

Q: Are you a first gen college student? And if so, what does your degree mean to you and your family?

A: Yeah, I am a first-gen college student and having an advanced degree is just amazing. My mom is so proud of me. ...  It is pretty monumental to have this degree, it means a lot to my mom and my family. And it is just a really exciting thing.

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