ASU grad is first in family tree to get a college degree

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Spring 2020 ASU graduate Joaquin Ramos, 22, describes first-generation college students as the “guinea pigs” of their families. But the criminal justice major used his experiences navigating life in college to encourage future first-generation students. 

As executive director of SPARKS, a student-led Access ASU program that supports college readiness among K-12 students, Ramos promoted higher education to Arizona youth. 

“I thought it was a really cool opportunity to be able to share everything I went through with everyone else. It’s funny because it was more of embracing that guinea pig role. I was like, 'Look, I went through it all. I survived. I’m here. Y’all can do it, too,'” Ramos said. 

His dedication to higher education and K-12 students earned him the chance to travel to Washington, D.C., for Advocacy Training and Hill Day through the National College Attainment Network. Ramos and another Sun Devil represented ASU while advocating for higher education policies to members of Congress. 

During his time as a Sun Devil, Ramos spent a semester abroad in Madrid, Spain, where he studied Spanish. 

“I traveled all over Europe. I got to do some of the things I had been wanting to do since I was a little kid,” Ramos said.

The Nogales, Arizona, native credits his family for his success as a first-generation college student. 

“My brothers, my whole family pushed me to do my very best, and I am so thankful,” Ramos said. 

As he completed his senior year, Ramos remembered the good times of his “roller-coaster” experience at ASU. 

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

Answer: Christmas break, senior year in high school, I binge-watched “Criminal Minds.” I wanted to be Aaron Hotchner. So I was like, alright FBI agent, what do I have to do? It was criminal justice. 

Over time, once I got here to ASU, I started taking different classes, started doing different things. I was like, you know what? Maybe I don't want to be an FBI agent anymore. I started leaning more toward the law side. 

Criminal law sounded pretty cool, because I used to work at a courthouse back home. Then, I read that ASU had a sports law program and I started looking into it. I was like, I've been in sports my whole life. I've been playing sports since I was 4 years old. I love watching all different kinds of sports.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: As a whole it's been really learning how to adult. I’ve learned how to shop for my own clothes because I don’t have to have my parents buy them. I’ve learned how to grocery shop. I’ve learned how to sign a lease, sign a contract, like all those little adult pet peeves. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU gave me the most scholarship money. It was also relatively close to home. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: The one who's helped me along every step of the way is Gabriela Jimenez. She is basically like a second mom to me. She took me under her wing ever since freshman year. She was my original supervisor with SPARKS freshman year. She was my mom away from home. Anything I needed, no matter what it was over: finances, ASU, personal, anything. 

I’ve always been really grateful for everything. She didn't have to take me under her wing. She didn’t have to help me. But she just has a kind and beautiful soul. She’s got the biggest heart I’ve ever seen on anyone.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Worry about your academics, but worry about who you know as well. Your academics and your diploma and your GPA, they’re going to get you far in life. But the connections, the networking, who you know, could get you even further than your degree. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My dorm, I could not study on campus for the life of me. I need music.

I love the intramural fields. I played soccer, so I love that. The Starbucks at the MU, I probably wasted hundreds if not thousands of dollars, both in my own money and M&G there. And I just love Palm Walk. Any excuse I have to go down Palm Walk, I’ll take it.  

Q: What are your plans now that you’ve graduated?

A: Sleep for a really long time. I know I have to get a job and all that and I’m working on that. But honestly I think I’m going to just hibernate.

In the long term, I’m doing the higher education master’s program. I’ve applied to it. I haven’t heard back yet. I’m looking to continue working for ASU. Then, hopefully finish that master’s and then move on to sports law or something to do with law school.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would make community college the first two years in the state of Arizona free for all students. And then I would put a specific program in place to help students transition from community college. So the university level after their free two years at any community college. And then I would, on the other side of things, I would make community youth sports as big and as accessible as possible to any little kid in the state. Just because I know that playing club soccer was expensive when I was little.

Written by Carmen De Alba Cardenas

Hannah Moulton Belec
News image: 
Hmoulton@asu.edu

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