Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2016 commencement. See more graduates here.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, Dec. 13, Sandra Vazquez Salas will stand up in front of a crowd of hundreds on Fletcher Lawn at ASU’s West campus and deliver a speech as the Outstanding Undergraduate Speaker for the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.
It’s a situation the biology major couldn’t have imagined finding herself in without the love and support of her family. Together, they endured socioeconomic hardships in Vazquez Salas’ childhood home of Cuernavaca, Mexico, before immigrating to Phoenix.
Her memories of that time have helped Vazquez Salas in her current position, serving disadvantaged and underrepresented populations as a medical interpreter and guest services representative for the county hospital. In the fall, she’ll be continuing on the track of pursuing a career in medicine when she begins attending the University of Arizona College of Medicine — Tucson.
“I have worked very hard throughout my undergraduate years,” Vazquez Salas said. “And I know my dedication and persistence will pay off.”
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: Growing up in the small town of Cuernavaca, Mexico, I experienced what being part of an underserved population truly meant. My family and I endured economic and social challenges that prevented us from accessing basic services, including medical care. We immigrated to overcome those challenges, and I spent the rest of my childhood in Phoenix, Arizona. I now work as a medical interpreter and guest services representative for the county hospital that serves many socioeconomically disadvantaged populations. Based on my experiences, I obtained a passion for medicine and science. I chose to major in an interdisciplinary degree because I wanted to obtain exposure to different fields, people and ideas. I feel like to fully understand, communicate and be a source of support for patients and their families, it is necessary for me to be well-rounded.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: The moment that truly changed my perspective happened as I was sitting in my biochemistry class. I realized how little I knew, yet, I have learned so much throughout these past few years at ASU. I can’t imagine not having this knowledge, and I want to continue to learn. I am able to think critically and apply the information from my classes to my daily life. I am excited for this new phase of my life, as this is only the beginning of my education.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I have lived in Arizona since I was 10 years old, and I cannot imagine myself being anywhere else. Being with my family has always been my priority. I wanted to be able to commute to and from school and to have my support system at home. ASU West, due to the perfect location, provided me with the opportunity to do so. I would not have been able to get through this journey without my family.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: I would say to get involved. There are so many opportunities that are offered by ASU, and one is encouraged to take advantage of them. I am a biology major, but I have done research with a psychology professor throughout these past few years. This allowed me to obtain more exposure to different fields. My experience at ASU would not have been the same if I had not gotten involved in any activities.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: I loved being at the Fletcher Library. The first floor is quiet for me to study, but loud enough for me to also have a conversation with friends.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I will be attending University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: If I had $40 million, I would donate that money to wildlife conservation organizations. With climate change, poaching, deforesting and other human actions, the biodiversity of the planet is in danger. It is our responsibility to maintain that biodiversity and help animals that are on the brink of extinction. I am a strong advocate for this issue, and I would love to be able to make such a huge impact.