Triple major first-in-family to graduate from college

Monday, May 6, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Erika Flores is the oldest of four children, born into a close-knit Mexican American family. While they did not attend college, her parents encouraged all of their children to do so. And Flores said she always knew she would pursue higher education.

But what she didn’t know was how much she would love it.

“I never planned to have three majors, it's just something that organically happened as I took some classes,” said Flores. “I had changed my major a few times during my freshman year before picking health science since it had all of the prerequisites for medical school. I added the biological sciences major after I took genetics because I wanted to learn more about biology. And when I took virology with Dr. (Brenda) Hogue, I enjoyed it so much, that I knew that I made the right choice. I later added psychology after being involved in two research labs in the psychology departments!”

This spring, she becomes the first in her family to graduate from college. And she has set the bar quite high for her younger siblings — one is attending ASU, another is graduating high school and the youngest will be a high school sophomore next fall. 

In addition to taking on the course load of three majors, Flores worked up to 30 hours each week in two ASU psychology research labs and also volunteered at Phoenix Children’s Hospital in the oncology and psychiatry departments. As a commuter student, she spent lots of time traveling between three ASU campuses, and her work took her off-campus. 

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

Answer: I had enjoyed science in high school, and I knew that I wanted to go into the health field. That is when I decided on my health science major. When I took genetics at ASU, I became interested in learning more about biology, and that’s when I decided to add the biological sciences major. When I took virology with Dr. Hogue, I enjoyed it so much that I knew that I made the right choice.

When I was volunteering at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, in the inpatient Psychology and Psychiatry department, I enjoyed it so much I decided to minor in psychology. However, after I was offered positions as a research assistant in two psychology labs, I decided to major in psychology as well. 

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

A: I have learned that there are many different paths that people can take to get to their end goal. Not everyone takes the same journey to get to the same destination — and that's OK. It’s always really interesting to learn about the different twists and turns that people have taken.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Proximity. I’ve lived in Arizona pretty much my entire life. As a Latina, the importance of family has always been ingrained and emphasized. After high school, I knew that I wanted to stay near my family. And options. ASU is such a big school and I like to dabble in many different things, so I knew that they would have a major that I wanted. I like having my options!

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

A: I respect all of my professors at ASU, as they all had something they contributed. However, I especially respect my female professors — especially those who are contributing to science; they’re a real inspiration! I think that Dr. (Phuong Thao) Ha and Dr. (Sandra) Losoya from the Psychology Department really impacted me and gave me a lot of great opportunities!

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

A: Know your options. Like I’ve said earlier, there are many different paths that people can take, so it’s important to try new things — you never know what opportunities are waiting!

Find an adviser that you like, and make sure that you keep going to the same one! They are a lot of help. Ryan from College of Health Solutions, Tara from Psychology and Ivy from School of Life Sciences were the advisers I usually went to.

Try to plan ahead as much as you can! I had become a triple major pretty late in my academic career (during my final year), but because I was very particular in the way that I picked my classes, I was able to finish up my last two majors during my final year. 

Don’t rush to graduate. Take advantage of all of the resources and opportunities. Do research, internships, volunteer, join clubs, study abroad!  

Make friends, especially within your field. I think it’s a lot more fun to go through things with people who understand what you’re going through. And, you can always help each other out. If you feel like you don’t know how to make friends, you can always just start a study group in a class — I’ve made many long-term friends this way!  

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on applying to and eventually hope to go to medical school. I also plan on doing more research but within the biology or microbiology fields. I also want to do more volunteer working with those who are underprivileged and underrepresented — especially among women and children.

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

A: I think that I would invest that money towards education. I think that by investing in education, we allow more people to become productive members of society and they could hopefully contribute towards solving other world problems. 

Q: What are some challenges you faced while earning your degree?

A: During my first few semesters at ASU, I felt like I was stumbling through my classes. Then, for a few semesters, I felt like I was sprinting too hard when higher education is actually a marathon. In other words, it took me a while to get the hang of college; there was a while where I wasn’t performing as well as I wanted or where I felt like I was taking too many classes — all while having a job. This became easier as I became more focused on my goal, learned better study habits and better time management. Having a flexible job helped too.

There was also the “hurdle” of trying to navigate the whole college thing, while not know anyone who had recently done it. I always had a list of questions that I would ask my academic advisers, but I made sure to have a general idea of the answers by looking it up online and double-checking with the adviser. 

The triple-major thing was a huge hurdle as well. There was a lot of paperwork. I had to have credit overloads. I had to fill out petitions with three different colleges for the concurrent degrees, which had to be filled out by three different advisers. There are many rules about credit overlapping that we had to be careful about. I was told that there was a chance that not all of the majors would be approved. This was really scary since I had already taken a bulk of the classes by the time I started the petition process. Again, I’m very grateful for the three advisers that I mentioned above.

Q: What’s something you are most proud of during your time at ASU? 

A: Graduating! I’m excited to make my family and myself proud. And the fact I was able to bounce back after a rough start. 

Q: Anything else?

A: Humility and humbleness go a long way. You can learn something from anyone. Don’t feel like you have to know everything. It’s OK to ask questions and ask for help. Don’t compare yourself to anyone, but yourself. Just keep moving forward and you might be surprised where you’ll end up — I was!