First-gen ASU grad proud to be a Yaqui Thunderbird

By

Hannah Moulton Belec

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

As a first-generation college student, spring 2021 master’s degree graduate Dina De Leon understands the importance of higher education, mentorship and uplifting young students from marginalized communities. Since 2019, De Leon has worked as a management intern with Access ASU in order to help students from local communities, such as her hometown of Guadalupe, Arizona, achieve their dreams of attending college. 

De Leon became the first in her family to graduate college back in 2018 after graduating from ASU with a bachelor’s degree in global studies. This year, De Leon has done it once again, this time with a Master of Global Management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management

De Leon began working with Access ASU shortly after beginning her master’s degree at the recommendation of a mentor. She was able to utilize her background and marketing experience to help the program market events and opportunities to students all over Arizona. 

“I thought that this would be a really beneficial role for me while I was a graduate student because I would be able to learn from and work with community leaders and remain committed to universitywide goals,” De Leon said. 

De Leon’s role became especially important after the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone inside and online. She took on the challenge of helping to organize and promote safe events and ensure that students were still getting the help they needed to graduate high school and make it to college. One example was her work promoting a drive-thru FAFSA event to help students learn to apply for financial aid when entering college.   

“What I love about Access ASU is that our stakeholders, the people we're serving, are those K–12 students and the community partner organizations who also have similar missions to help first-generation students get to college and help students graduate from high school,” De Leon said. “If a student isn’t necessarily looking to go directly to ASU, Access is still helping them achieve the goal of graduating high school and letting them know that there is a pathway to college for them if they desire it.” 

De Leon also got involved in these communities outside of Access ASU as well. In fact, one specific reason De Leon was initially drawn to Access ASU was because of its work with other community programs. One program that Access ASU has worked with is College Success Arizona, an organization that also awarded De Leon a scholarship at one point. De Leon served on the program’s alumni board and was a speaker at a summit hosted by the program. In addition to this, De Leon served on the governing board of Chicanos Por La Causa, advising on business strategy and serving as a peer mentor.

“It meant a lot to me to know that Access ASU is well known and recognized in the community. I really wanted to help serve their mission and be part of the work that they do,” De Leon said. 

At ASU, De Leon was also involved with the Hispanic Business Alumni, briefly serving as chapter president. Here, she helped raise money for Hispanic undergraduate business students and mentored them. 

De Leon received a number of notable scholarships to support her college education. The Thunderbird Alumni scholarship helped fund her graduate studies. For her undergraduate degree, De Leon received a significant amount of financial support from her community. De Leon is a member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe and was recognized as a Yaqui scholar. 

“I don’t think that there were that many Yaqui scholars but I’m happy to see that number is increasing. I hope I’m not the first Thunderbird Yaqui student, but I really hope I’m not the last. As I continue on in my career, I hope to see more Yaqui Thunderbird students,” De Leon said. 

As De Leon graduated, she shared her reflections and advice for fellow Sun Devils. 

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

Answer: My “aha” moment when I knew I wanted to study international business and just dedicate my life to impacting lives on a global scale was when I studied abroad in Italy. This was in the summer of 2015, and that semester after I got back, I changed my major from econ to international studies. I wanted to see more of the world. 

Then, I took a class, Business in Latin America, at W. P. Carey and I went to Chile that year. I studied international business at the university in Chile, and I formed some of the best relationships with students from around the world. I wanted to continue studying business and meeting people from different cultures.  

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

A: I think learning to listen and understanding that as leaders and students, we can’t always be speaking so much. We need to listen more than we speak. For me, I went into Thunderbird (thinking that) I have such a diverse background, I can’t wait to share it with everyone. 

I got a good wake-up call the first semester, when I learned that there was so much I could learn from my peers if I just listen to what they have to say. Everyone in this school is smart, and everyone in Thunderbird is intelligent. We really need to take time and understand that. No one is better or worse than you; we just have very different experiences, and if we take the time to ask each other questions and get to know each other on a personal level, it’s going to leave us with great friendships and potential business partners in the future. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Arizona is my home. My parents didn’t go to college, so they were happy with wherever I went, but my grandparents both had ties to ASU. My grandpa was a groundskeeper in the community, and he was such a big ASU fan. My grandma was a house cleaner for Frank Kush. We’ve always been a Sun Devil family at heart, so I really wanted to pursue my studies here. 

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

A: I’d have to say my most recent professor, Dr. Guthrie. He is a new professor at Thunderbird, and just this semester he taught me a lot about the power of being vulnerable as a leader, sharing your personal story and not being afraid to be honest and open. I think having him for my last semester at Thunderbird was something I needed to have happened because he taught us frameworks and leadership that we'll be able to use years beyond today and graduation. I really think that Dr. Guthrie was a great addition to Thunderbird, and I can't wait to see all the other students that get to learn from him.

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

A: Learn to begin with the end in mind and envision a beautiful life that you can live on your own terms and then decide that you'll do whatever it takes to make your vision a reality. 

Remember that you will be tested. There will be a lot of challenges and personal losses, but you're not in this alone. You have a family of ancestors and alumni, people who believe in you, so continue to live in their honor and don't be afraid to ask for help.

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

A: Some days when I would go run at the SDFC, I remember I would run around campus too and on my last lap, I'd be like OK I'm going to run around the whole campus because nobody's outside. I would go run up the stairs of Old Main and I would get to the top of the stairs and look around. I just like that spot because then I could just sit there and meditate and think about how beautiful this campus is. It’s just me here, and I think that’s a meditative moment for me to just take it all in. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m applying to roles within project management marketing and communications. My plan is to live in Arizona for a couple more years. 

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

A: I think it would be something tied to a project I did at Access. It would be something with racial equity. How we can solve this problem and get everyone on a level playing field and given not only the right resources but the right tools just to advance themselves. 

It’s not just one person who is going to find the solution to climate change, it's going to be a group of multiple people collaborating across sectors and across cultures. I would invest in people who are going to come up with the solutions, and I honestly think that that is racial equity. Just because somebody has a different skin color doesn't mean that they shouldn't be given the same opportunities. 

Written by Marisol Ortega, ASU Student Life