Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates.
Maria Medina has a 4-year-old son and a husband, is president of a student organization, volunteers with her church and just finished her bachelor’s degree in human resources at Arizona State University.
How does she do it all?
“The first thing is wanting it badly because then it’s a feeling that propels you to achieve and get to the end goal,” she said.
“And I also think about my son and the example I want to set for him.”
Medina has been named the Outstanding Graduating Senior by the W. P. Carey School of Business, an award that goes to undergraduates who have a grade point average of at least 3.6 and show leadership on campus and off. The human resources major is based at ASU’s Polytechnic Campus, where Medina is president of the ASU student chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management.
Medina has always shown resilience. At the age of 8, she and her family fled their native Venezuela as the political situation there deteriorated. They settled in California, where Medina had to learn English and her parents worked very hard to support the family. She excelled academically and athletically on the swim team, but turned a down a college scholarship and began working at Verizon Wireless, working her way up to customer service supervisor.
She always wanted to pursue higher education, so one week after she had her son, she started classes at community college, eventually graduating with an associate degree in business administration and then enrolling at Sacramento State University. When her husband’s employer told him he had to relocate to Arizona two years ago, they did, and that’s how Medina ended up at ASU.
“He told me, ‘If we don’t relocate, you’ll have to get a job and it’ll take you longer to get your degree,’" she said, adding that their teamwork has been crucial to her success.
“He’s been working overtime so I don’t have to work and I can focus on my studies,” she said. “We juggle duties with our son so that allows me to focus — although I don’t sleep often.”
Medina answered some questions from ASU Now:
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: I realized it after my first meeting at the Society for Human Resource Management. I wasn’t 100 percent but I had that exciting feeling. My original major was finance, so it was a last-minute switch.
I liked human resources because you work alongside the other business partners as a key player in the organization. You’re looking for the most beneficial candidates for the company and you’re looking for ways to ensure your employees are happy. I also like that human resources has many different branches to explore. It’s not just hiring and firing people. You can go into compensation and benefits, or recruiting, or employee relations.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: I learned this very recently when I reported an issue with academic integrity and a couple of colleagues didn’t think I should say anything. Not everybody is going to support you in everything you feel is right. Everyone will have a different approach but if you feel that if you’re bringing something import to light, you should go for it regardless of the pressure you receive from anyone else.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Don’t stick with just the classroom content. Take the opportunity your professors offer you, like attending conferences and attending events that are related to real-world topics and issues. I had a couple of professors invite me to an employment law conference and I met a lot of lawyers at the Society of Human Resource Management of Phoenix. They were actual HR professionals. This will make you more well-rounded and you will gain insight into what to expect when you’re done.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: At Poly, it’s the Student Union. Even though I spent a lot more time at the library, I like the union because of all the foot traffic. If I’m studying something that’s not too complex, I like seeing the students interact and I enjoyed the fact that it had Starbucks right there.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I’m in the second phase of the interview process for a position as a compensation analyst back in California. I’m waiting for the second interview.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would tackle hunger. While $40 million may not fix it, there’s a way to be very strategic about the programs you invest in to create sustainability. Many kids go to bed hungry every night. Too many people go hungry. To me that’s not OK. It’s a basic human right.