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ASU grad returns to earn bachelor’s degree after 30 years

By

Kirsten Kraklio

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

Sharon Suarez first attended Arizona State University in 1987 as a 17 year old. Coming from a small town and not having a clear goal in mind, she said the experience was overwhelming and she soon left the university.

“I came from a smaller town in Arizona and high school was easy. I knew everybody, I never moved or ever made any changes,” she said. “To show up on campus at ASU… the classes were so much harder and it was an epic life failure as far as adjusting to being on my own, being in school, and poor life choices were made along the way.”

After stepping away from the university, Suarez met and married her husband and started a family.

“We had to support a household and work, so school just became second,” she said.

Three decades later, Suarez returned to ASU and this fall, she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and a minor in English from the Department of English.

“I got to the point where my kids were in college and I knew I had this goal and I just decided it wasn't ever going to change,” she said. “School's never going to get cheaper. It's never going to get easier and there's never going to be time, but this overwhelming need to finish was just always there. I decided to just step back in.”

Suarez shared more about her experiences at ASU and advice for others.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: It's always been my long-term goal to finish ASU since I started there. But then also, when I knew I was going to attend online — the program, the cost, the flexibility — everything just kind of worked.

Q: How was your experience taking courses through ASU Online?

A: The online program was fantastic. It's hard to think about at a certain point trying to start over in school and to go to class and take notes. I didn’t even know that I would know how to sit in a classroom anymore and try to listen to the teacher and retain the information. So for me, or people that have different learning styles, ASU Online is such a fantastic option and is a well-run program. I could listen to lectures as many times as I needed to and read the material as much as I wanted, at my own pace.

Q: What drew you to an anthropology degree?

A: It was one of the few classes from my first attempt that I actually enjoyed. When I visit places and when I want to do stuff, it's the history, it's the stories behind everything that I enjoy. So I got to thinking that was what appealed to me and I could combine my enjoyment of writing and learn the story. I realized, if that's what I really wanted to do, and that's what I enjoyed, then it would make sense that my degree would be in anthropology. And then to have ASU Online have that degree was awesome.

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

A: One of my classes was "drugs in society;" I'm from a different generation, so for me, there are certain drugs that are popular now that have stigma because of my age. The class was a chance to step back and see some of the drugs in a different light. And then gain an understanding and realization of the impact that drugs have on society and the perceptions that people have and the court system. It was a great class and opened my eyes in a different way and took away the stigma of some of the abuses and helped me think about life a little bit differently.

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

A: I think each one I encountered had so much knowledge to share and each class really was a benefit in a different way, whether it was their teaching styles or their class production. The more challenging courses I took were from Dr. Jason Bryant because the topic of some of the books were not in my normal realm. I think with his structure, he taught me how to read in a different way where I wasn't reading for enjoyment, I was reading to comprehend and pull more out of things than what I normally did when I picked up a book to read. So I think his class was really beneficial with his teaching style and picking books that didn't appeal to the masses, but finding a way to utilize the information that was contained in them.

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

A: Keep moving. It’s hard if you think about the long-term goal, but if you take it one step at a time and just keep progressing forward, you'll eventually get there. When I started and I kept thinking about how many classes I had left and how long it was going to take, it was overwhelming. I had to change my mindset and break it up into little parts. But just keep moving — you're never going to get there if you don't keep moving.

Q: What advice would you give to people in similar circumstances as you were, and considering returning to school after a long break?

A: It's worth it for your own investment; it's worth it for the knowledge; it's worth it for the experience. Unless you start, you're not going to finish, so if it's something that is a goal you just have to make a choice that you're important and your education is important and it's OK to invest that time in yourself.