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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.
Everyone always says it is important to make the most out of your college experience and graduating senior Rebecca Ericson did just that.
Not only do her professors describe her as an “extraordinary” and “stellar” student, she has been involved in the Arizona State University community in any way she can.
She has done extracurricular work for the Center for Asian Research and the Political History and Leadership program, co-founded Epic Movement, an Asian American student organization, and has worked with Bridges, a club for international students.
Over this last summer she studied abroad in Taiwan and taught English in Hong Kong while protests were going on. Ericson cared for her student’s concerns about the current events and made the most out of the unexpected turn in her summer.
“I cannot imagine a more deserving, or a more humble, candidate than Rebecca,” said Catherine O’Donnell, history professor and history faculty head. “In her achievements, ambitions and generosity she is the best of us.”
Ericson is getting bachelor’s degrees in history and English with a concentration in linguistics as well as a minor in Chinese.
“When I received the news, it came as a big surprise and it is definitely a huge honor,” Ericson said. “At the same time, it wasn’t a complete shock to find out simply because the professors that I’ve worked with in SHPRS have been some of my biggest supporters during my time at ASU. If it weren’t for their constant encouragement, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
Ericson is the recipient of the Dean’s Medal for the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies this semester. We caught up with her to ask about her time at ASU.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? (Might be while you were at ASU or earlier.)
Answer: For me, there was never a specific moment where everything just clicked. Instead, it’s been a slow process of uncovering my own interests, strengths and weaknesses and understanding how those all work together. During my time in university, I switched majors twice before I finally arrived at the intersection of my passions. Because of that, attending ASU was a huge blessing for me, because I was given the flexibility and resources to try lots of different things. My degree in history reflects my love for people and stories and has equipped me with invaluable tools for research and writing. My linguistics degree has helped guide me towards more specific academic interests. Through taking classes, talking with professors who know me well, participating in cross-disciplinary research, and working in various jobs and internships, I now feel fully confident in where my future career is headed.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: Something that I have learned about this semester that has really impacted me is the reality of educational inequality in the United States. Through investigating the effect of class, race, social reproduction, policy and other factors, I am developing a more critical viewpoint of educational systems as a whole. Aside from classroom content, I had one particularly interesting experience in my capstone history research course with Dr. Catherine O’Donnell. I was looking for a bill from the early 1700s that many sources were citing, but wasn’t able to find any proof of its existence. After a few weeks of emailing back and forth with the Massachusetts archives, I finally found out that the bill was never actually drawn up! It was pretty exciting — and satisfying — to know that I had discovered a small inconsistency in the narrative, and that experience challenged the way that I view research and even the pursuit of truth as a whole.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: ASU was always a logical choice for me because I grew up in Sun Devil territory! Ultimately, I was drawn to ASU for multiple reasons, like the incredible value, especially for in-state students, vast resources and beautiful campus. After actually enrolling, I found even more reasons to stay. I love ASU’s commitment to diversity and access, incredible faculty, and endless opportunities for students. My time at ASU has also given me experiences that I will carry with me for a lifetime. For example, I was able to participate in an exchange program to National Taiwan University, where I spent a semester at the top university in my mother’s home country. Because of this partnership, I was able to have an amazing experience exploring my heritage, connecting with family and new friends, and improving my Chinese skills.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Rather than one specific professor in particular, I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from the faculty at ASU is to be confident and take ahold of opportunities when they present themselves. I have had professors encourage me to apply for scholarships, attend conferences and check out summer jobs and opportunities that I had no idea even existed. I have also had conversations with professors where they pointed out hidden traits and interests that I didn’t know I had! Their guidance and support has made a huge difference over the past four years.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: My first piece of advice is to study abroad! Choosing to study abroad was arguably one of the best choices that I made during my time at ASU. Aside from that, I want to encourage other students, especially those who don’t know exactly what they want to do after graduation, to take advantage of the resources that ASU offers to explore their interests. Even if there is something that you are just marginally interested in, just try it out! Either you’ll love it, which is great, you found something you love, or if you don’t like it, then great, you know now that you don’t like it. Even if you don’t find your passion in a job, research opportunity or class, eliminating choices still means you’re one step closer to finding your “thing.”
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: I am always a fan of the Secret Garden, it’s a great place to slow down and take a moment to breathe. If I have more time to kill, I love stopping by the Student Pavilion to hang out with friends from Epic Movement, an Asian American Christian organization, which has without a doubt been one of the most important communities for me during my time at ASU. There are always people there who are down to work on homework together, chat in between classes or play a few rounds of TypeRacer.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I am currently applying for graduate schools, as I will be pursuing a master’s and potentially a PhD in applied linguistics. I have also been applying for English teaching fellowships, which would place me in a teaching position in China or Hong Kong. I was actually able to teach English in Hong Kong this past summer through the nonprofit Summerbridge Hong Kong because of a timely SHPRS scholarship and I hope to return to Asia to learn more about educational systems and language teaching. Regardless of what opportunities open up, I am excited to both gain firsthand experience in the language classroom, as well as theoretical and practical knowledge in applied linguistics.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: The issue that is most on my heart is definitely education. As Weis and Fine write in “Beyond Silenced Voices,” "Good schooling sits at the foundation of a strong nation, a democratic society and an educated, engaged and active community for hope and justice." I would use the money to boost funding for the schools that need it most, provide support for teachers and create extracurricular programs that give struggling kids a reason to stay in school, among other things.