History major finds her calling at ASU's Polytechnic campus

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

Often, when people hear “polytechnic campus,” engineering comes to mind. That was true for history graduating senior Sarah Bruce, who transferred to Arizona State University's College of Integrative Science and Arts after she completed a two-year program in instrumental music and vocal performance at Scottsdale Community College and then took a year to teach voice and perform in the Valley.

“To be honest, I had no idea that the Polytechnic campus offered a history program,” said Bruce. “When I looked through the history major requirements and saw I was able to choose science, technology and society as a related area, that appealed to me. I was also able to convert many of my music, art, theory and history classes to the BA in history.”

Still, she said, she was somewhat tentative about her choice at first, as she transitioned from a community college experience that had revolved around music education and performance.

“But after spending a year deep in study, I ran into a few of my previous mentors and dove into some very deep conversations about the study of history,” she recalled. “One of my mentors pulled me aside during a gig and told me that, not only was I on the right track, but my growth and development was inspiring to him. In that moment I knew that history was a calling for me.”

Bruce said she found the Polytechnic campus environs to be a perfect match in so many ways.

“The Polytechnic campus is very modern, quiet, and has everything a student would need to be successful,” she said, “including small class sizes, active learning, engaged students and staff, and many caring professors who are just as invested in students’ academic experience as we are.  

“To study history at a campus that also has strong science and engineering instruction meant being able to discuss many topics in innovation, sustainability, and development with experts in the field,” she continued. “That has helped me to shape the scope of my research.” 

But Bruce’s undergraduate journey was not without struggle. It has taken her seven years and working through real hardships to reach her goal. 

“I became an only-parent when my daughter was two years old,” she explained. “A car accident and other painful personal events in my and my daughter’s life meant raising a child alone while dealing with physical therapy, money worries, counseling appointments, court hearings, and, on top of that, finishing my degree! So when I look now on these years, I know that graduating is more than just an accomplishment; it has a very profound and deeper meaning to me beyond the academics.” 

She said she often felt like giving up. But not wanting tragedy to define her, Bruce rose above her circumstances, proving to herself and her daughter that they could overcome. All the while she set a high standard for her education and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. 

“Every moment on this path, though some were the most difficult in my life, has taught me what dedication and perseverance actually mean,” she reflected. “I wouldn’t have come this far if it wasn’t for those people who were champions in my corner. I owe praise to many of the professors who encouraged my success and were considerate of my circumstances.

“My time here at ASU has been pivotal to my growth and development as a person,” said Bruce, “and I will miss this wonderful institution!” 

Bruce shared some additional reflections about her ASU experience.

Question: What’s something you learned while studying at ASU that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

Answer: Studying the impact of colonization has shaped my viewpoint about life and culture the most. Many peoples and countries have been impacted significantly for centuries under colonial rule. Having lived my entire life in the United States, understanding how the rest of the world views the complex issues of life also gave me a different perspective. I now see history as an interconnected web in which social structures, governments, economies, wars are a product of evolving change that impact individual lives.    

Q: When you think of your time studying with ASU, is there an interesting moment, experience story or accomplishment that stands out for you?    

A: I’m passionate about actively engaging the community — especially children — in education related to science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). When I began taking my science, technology and society courses, we worked on projects that could be used in elementary classrooms to teach this kids about technology, recycling, engineering, and sustainability. My favorite project was a video guide for children on how to make their own aqua-garden. The goal was to use easily accessible, low-cost materials to create an eco-friendly food resource that anyone in the world could use and that could eventually help to curb poverty.  

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: There are so many possibilities! The great thing about having a history degree is the skill sets you gain: critical thinking, analysis, effective communication. I plan on taking a year to see if I can find work in the field and will look into graduate school. Most importantly, I plan to publish some of my work, including a short children's book I wrote about the war in Libya after the fall of Gaddafi. I found it very powerful to present the perspectives of war through the eyes of children. 

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

A: There are enough resources to serve the world's population, but yet almost half the world lives in poverty. Climate change is also causing devastation to our natural world. Forty million wouldn't be enough to begin to cover even one of those problems, but if I had to choose anything, it would be reversing the effects of climate change through various campaigns. Perhaps if we all step up to the challenge, the next few generations can still have this beautiful place we call home.