ASU graduate’s volunteer work solidified desire to make a career of service

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates

For many people, fitting travel into a busy schedule of work and school may be just a pipe dream. But fall 2018 Arizona State University graduate Nicole Rock made it her reality by attending an online degree program and she is using invaluable experience gained abroad as a foundation for her career. As she worked remotely toward a master’s degree in Global Technology and Development (GTD) in ASU's School for the Future of Innovation in Society (SFIS), Rock found time to do the things she loves: travel and volunteer — all while working a full-time job.

Rock’s passion lies in working with remote communities, specifically those in Central America, to exchange ideas and discuss new ways to improve public health, health education, sanitation infrastructure and more. In her travels, Rock aimed to integrate into local communities, eschewing typical tourist accommodations in an effort to gain a greater understanding of local culture and values. In doing so, she often saw unique aspects of communities that helped inform her volunteer work. After many fulfilling experiences abroad, she has decided to pursue a career in service.

After graduating with her Bachelor of Arts in global health from Arizona State University in 2017, Rock volunteered in Nicaragua with Global Brigades, a nonprofit that aims to empower communities in developing countries. Inspired by her experience, she started the ASU chapter of Global Public Health Brigades, which provides students opportunities to work in countries such as Honduras, Nicaragua, Ghana and others. In addition to studying abroad in Nicaragua, Rock carried out field research for her applied project in Honduras and participated in ASU’s Global Intensive Experience Study Abroad Program in Ecuador.

“Nicole embodies the qualities of a GTD and SFIS graduate,” said Professor Mary Jane Parmentier, chair of the degree program and lead faculty on Rock’s Study Abroad experience in Ecuador. “She is strong academically and passionate about effectuating positive change in marginalized communities.”

Rock volunteers on a daily basis, and her experiences have solidified her desire to build a career focused on service with goals emphasizing partnerships with local organizations to increase capacity and co-developing solutions that positively impact communities. Her dedication to service resulted in her selection as a winner of the 2018 ASU Student Shine Contest, which highlights the achievement and success of ASU students who excel in any one of ASU's six values: Career, Culture, Engagement, Service, Spirit/Affinity and Wellness.

Rock encourages other people to jump into service, even if they are hesitant at first.

“You may be tired on the weekend, you might have classes, but if you can make the time to volunteer, it’s such a great feeling to know that you’ve made an impact on someone else’s life,” she said.

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

Answer: My "aha" moment for selecting GTD happened after I attended a volunteer program in Nicaragua that focused on sustainable development, partnerships with communities and utilizing basic tools and technology to increase overall quality of life. I enjoyed volunteering so much that I wanted to continue my education. I did my undergraduate degree in global health at ASU, so I was hoping to find a way to gain more knowledge on the technology and international development aspect. That compelled me to explore options with ASU, so I did extensive research on the courses available to find out what aligned best with my interests, and that led me to the GTD program in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society!

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

A: The most impactful thing I have learned, especially since I am interested in program implementation in other countries, is the importance of taking into consideration the needs and values of the recipients. This ensures applicability, and hopefully, greater success within the program. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of the options for online courses. I work full time so this limits my ability to attend regularly scheduled classes, but I did not want to sacrifice my desire for an education. But thanks to ASU, I was able to make it work! 

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

A: Dr. Gary Grossman, who taught how you think is just as important as what you think.

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

A: To keep moving forward and keep applying yourself, even outside of the classroom. I am happy with where I am at in my collegiate career because of the opportunities I searched for — internships, volunteering, etc. — and worked hard towards. Supplementing your academic education with real-life experience enhances the value of your education. 

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

A: I am rarely on campus since I am an online student. So, my favorite place to study would have to be a little desk in my house where I can set up my coursework and compartmentalize the rest of my responsibilities.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plans after graduating are to work for an organization that involves international work. I don't have a specific career title or organization decided, but I am interested in public health issues in rural areas, sustainable development and community development. Understanding and reducing health inequities has been at the heart of my studies since I started at ASU and would like to continue on this path after graduating. 

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

A: What a difficult question. It really is hard for me to say because so many issues and problems are interconnected. Currently, it would have to be environmental threats.