In praise of happenstance
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.
Leah Soto is passionate about sports. She also likes to read and write. So, the Chandler, Arizona, native put two and two together and got … a major in sports journalism at Arizona State University. But: “I pretty quickly realized that I preferred being a fan of sports rather than an unbiased observer,” she confessed.
Soto stayed in the journalism program but switched her focus to straight reporting. That wasn’t quite right either. “It wasn’t something I was passionate about.” On a whim, she sauntered metaphorically over to the humanities and voila! It was a match.
Soto is graduating this December from ASU with a BA in English (linguistics) and a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). She doesn’t regret a single thing: “Pretty much everything I learned during both my majors has somehow changed my perspective.”
While switching majors midstream might have unnerved some less intrepid students, Soto has a knack for taking life as it comes. Her ability to see value in happenstance is what led her to degree completion.
Some of Soto’s best “teachers” have been the firsthand experiences she gained, both in her work as an editor at Downtown Devil and in three separate internships: at Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine, at Dunham Media, and as a tutor for English 108 courses at ASU. The magazine internship taught her to “write prettily,” she said, and her time at Dunham Media was a goldmine of one-on-one mentoring and plum assignments —“most of the stories I wrote were about food so I got to go to a food truck festival and do a hot sauce taste test.”
The tutoring internship really whetted her appetite for teaching, where she said she sees her long-term future most clearly and plans to make full use of her new academic credentials. “All of my students are wonderful and I love being able to give them some guidance,” she said. "I really want to travel and write and a TESOL certificate seems like a great way to do that. … Plus, people always say teaching is the best way to learn and I love learning!”
We sat down with Soto to ask her a few questions about her time at ASU and what’s next.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?
Answer: I realized I wanted to study linguistics as I was studying it. I didn’t really know too much about it before I decided to make it my major. I chose linguistics because I was changing my major after two years in the journalism program and all I knew was that I wanted to study English. Literature didn’t seem like the right path for me, and creative writing required a lot of the same classes as the lit major plus it would’ve resulted in me graduating a semester late — something my four-year scholarship wasn’t going to cover. I did some research on linguistics and it seemed interesting and new, so I decided to go that route and I have no regrets! I’ve enjoyed every single lesson, so it was definitely the right choice.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: The entire process of reporting was completely new to me until journalism school and it gave me a whole new perspective on the importance of a free press. As far as linguistics goes, every day blows my mind. The entire premise seems to be just tearing down all of our preconceived notions of language and replacing them with smaller building blocks. I love it.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I chose ASU because I originally wanted to study sports journalism and ASU’s Cronkite School has one of the best sports journalism programs in the country. Plus, my entire family is in this area and I received an excellent scholarship to attend the university.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: I’ve had so many fantastic professors, I can’t pick just one. Terry Greene Sterling from the Cronkite School taught me how to have confidence in my writing and empower myself through it. And Ruby Macksoud and Dr. George Justice in the English department taught me the value of making meaningful connections with your professors through their incredible kindness and support.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: I’d tell everyone to go to class, pay attention and engage with your professors. Even just doing things as simple as making eye contact or asking questions can go a long way.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: My favorite spot on campus is Engineering Center G. It has the perfect balance of quiet and background noise, it has plenty of natural light, and it has different types of chairs to sit in.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I’m going to do some freelance writing and editing here in Tempe, move to Colorado when my lease is up in May, and hopefully find a full-time editing position up there.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I’d donate it to find a sustainable solution to clearing garbage out of the ocean.